Tag Archive: pcs


InjusticeThe VOAG has been concerned for a long time at the actions of PCS union members who work at Employment Centers. Many of the members of the Surrey United Anti-Capitalists – a local, independent,  left unity project, which the VOAG supports – have been unfairly treated, bullied and victimized by the staff. They have had their only source of income taken away from them on the whim of apparent union members who later go on strike and demand “working class unity and support”

The VOAG was pleased to read the article below, dealing with this very question on the Socialist Unity blog, and re-publishes it here.

 The role of PCS members in the bullying of benefit claimants

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are engaged in the widespread bullying and intimidation of benefit claimants in Job Centres up and down the country. The evidence can no longer be denied and the union’s leadership must now take steps to educate its members that solidarity is more than just a word on a leaflet during a PCS pay dispute, or else face the accusation of collaborating with the government’s vicious assault on the most economically vulnerable in society under the rubric of austerity.

The upsurge in the number of claimants having their benefits sanctioned for increasingly minor infractions correlates to the upsurge in the demand for the services of the nation’s food banks. This shocking revelation was contained in a report by MPs in January, the result of an investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which called for an independent review into the rules for sanctioning claimants to ensure that the rules are being applied “fairly and appropriately”.

Among its findings the report stated: “Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied”.

The report continued: “Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions”.

The majority of Jobcentre staff are members of the 270,000 strong PCS, the sixth largest trade union in the country, which represents thousands of Britain’s civil servants and public sector workers. The PCS has been a strong critic of the coalition’s austerity policies, making the case for an investment led recovery from recession and calling for mass opposition to spending cuts that have ravaged the public sector and been accompanied by a concerted campaign of demonization of the unemployed and economically vulnerable that is unparalleled in its viciousness. This only makes the role some of its members are playing in intensifying the hardship faced by the unemployed and people on out of work benefits even more deplorable.

It is unconscionable that any trade union would allow its members to engage in the wilful and systematic sanctioning of benefit claimants without offering any meaningful resistance. It flies in the face of the very principle of social solidarity that is the cornerstone of a movement founded on the understanding that the interests of working people – employed and unemployed – are intrinsically the same.

The human despair not to mention humiliation being inflicted on people in the nation’s Jobcentres is evidence that the Tory campaign of dividing working people section by section has borne fruit. It has reached the point where the oppressive atmosphere found in your average Jobcentre is on a par with the oppressive atmosphere associated with a district or sheriff court. Job seekers are not criminals and those sanctioning them so readily are not parole officers, yet you could be easily mistaken in thinking they are after spending just a few minutes in a Jobcentre anywhere in the country.

Enough is enough.
This culture of bullying, harassment, and intimidation against the unemployed must be confronted by the leadership of the leadership of the PCS as a matter of urgency. By no means are all PCS members working in Jobcentres guilty of this shameful practice – indeed many are low paid workers reliant on various benefits to survive themselves – but enough are involved in the practice to leave no doubt that we are talking about an institutional problem rather than the actions of a few rotten apples.

Many of those being sanctioned are being trapped due to mental health issues or language issues making them more vulnerable to violating the plethora of rules regarding the obligations they must fulfil when it comes to searching for work. Many are being sanctioned for turning up five minutes late to a scheduled appointment, regardless of the reason why. In some cases suicide has been the result.

You would hope that the leadership of the PCS would at least acknowledge the despair their members are inflicting on the most economically vulnerable people in society. You’d be wrong. In an article which appeared on the PCS website back in February, addressing the volume of criticism being levelled at the DWP over sanctioning, the union denied culpability in the process. On the contrary they assert in the article:

PCS believes our members do the best job they can in very difficult circumstances. Rather than face criticism, this work should be recognised and valued by management and they should start by ensuring a proper pay increase for DWP staff in 2014.

Any trade union member who allows him or herself to be used as an instrument to attack the poor and the unemployed is deserving of contempt. And any trade union leadership that fails to act to prevent it happening is reactionary.Voag-Logo-34

Advertisements

Grass Roots Rank and File Launch Conference.

Saturday 12 April 2014. 12pm
Comfort Inn, Opposite New St Station,

Station Street,

Birmingham. B5 4DY.

Following the successful meeting of the Grass Roots Left National Committee in Birmingham on 18 January the launch conference of the new Grass Roots Rank and File now looks to be on a far healthier basis than was feared when Socialist Fight supporters had been reduced to a minority of two in defence of the Constitution and Platform of the GRL as the basis for the new organisation at the AGM of 9 November. Between the two meetings the SWP had split at its December conference and the new organisation, now called the Revolutionary Socialists of the 21st Century, took the majority of the Unite the union faction who had supported Jerry Hicks for general secretary twice. Both the SWP and the SR21C attended the GRL NC and as they were now rivals they sought to accentuate their leftism. It seems now that the new joint Rank and File organisation will be open and democratic and be based on a platform and constitution at least similar to the old GRL one. Both Workers Power and Socialist Resistance had to reverse themselves and now say that standing on Jerry Hicks election points really was minimalist and not enough and they abandoned their charges of ultra leftism against SF. The SWP, of course, continues its opportunist tailending of all the other the TU bureaucracies as Laurence Humphries’s report on the Unite the Resistance conference on page 30 makes clear. In the meantime we hear that fusion discussions between Unite and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), whose Executive is dominated by the SP/CWI, are going to succeed because the government will withdraw check-off facilities from the PCS and so probably bankrupt it. The SP has already approached the United Left, the Unite bureaucracy’s mouthpiece, to ensure that they become ensconced as that bureaucracy’s footstools as well as for the RMT’s Bob Crow.grass-roots-RandF

TUSC, The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to challenge for a seat on London Assembly

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), made up of trade union members and socialists, is to stand candidates in the Greater London Election on 3 May to challenge the all-party support for the government’s austerity cuts and pay freeze.

The coalition expects to win support from trade unionists and other voters who are angered by the recent statements of Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, in which they stated that they will not reverse the Government’s cuts and that they support its pay freeze.

A list of candidates will challenge in the ‘top up’ section of the election and if it wins at least 5% of the vote across the whole of London it could win at least one place on the 25-seat Greater London Assembly.

The coalition has already selected prominent London trade union leaders such as Alex Gordon, the national president of the RMT rail and maritime union and Steve Hedley the RMT’s London Transport regional organiser, Ian Leahair, the Fire Brigades Union executive committee member for the capital, Joe Simpson, assistant secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association and Martin Powell-Davies, who is the London representative on the national committee of the NUT teachers union.

The Labour Party will be concerned that many public sector workers who participated in the 30 November pensions’ strike may be moved to vote for this coalition because of the failure of Labour leaders to support the walk-out.

Labour leaders will also be worried that rank and file union members of Labour affiliated unions could press for their funds to go to a party like TUSC instead of to Labour.

Steve Hedley, whose RMT union was expelled from the Labour Party in 2004 for backing the Scottish Socialist Party, said, “We need candidates who support the ordinary man and woman. TUSC is the only organisation that opposes all cuts, defends pensions and benefits for all working people. Labour just wants a compliant, silent union movement to hand over its money. TUSC will be a voice for all workers and will support trade unions in struggle.”

TUSC national committee member Nick Wrack, who is also a candidate, said, “London is a city of stark contrasts. There is a huge amount of poverty amidst the plenty. Corporate bosses and bankers still get their million pound pay and pension packages while one in six London workers is paid less than the Mayor’s £8.30 per hour living wage. Millions are suffering from the cuts to services and benefits yet last year the city paid out over £4 billion in bonuses. It’s extremely hard even for those on better wages to make ends meet. We believe that there is an opportunity for a party that will speak up for working-class London to make a real break-through and that would begin to change the nature of political debate in Britain today.” TUSC believes it can get a candidate elected if it wins at least 150,000 votes across London.

Candidates selected for the TUSC GLA list so far include (in alphabetical order):
April Ashley, UNISON National Executive Committee

Alex Gordon, RMT President
Steve Hedley, RMT London regional organiser
Ian Leahair, FBU National Executive Committee
Martin Powell-Davies, NUT national executive
Joe Simpson, POA assistant secretary
Jenny Sutton, UCU Chair, London Regional Committee (FE)
Nick Wrack, TUSC national committee member (former chair of Socialist Alliance and Respect)
There will also be candidates from the CWU postal union and the PCS public service workers union.
(All standing in a personal capacity)

The final list is not yet decided. Other candidates are still being considered.
The FBU has 5,500 members in London.
The RMT has over 12,000 members in London Underground alone

 TUSC CONFERENCE: Saturday 28 January 2012,
11:00am – 4:00pm, University of London Union, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HY
http://www.tusc.org.uk

The VOAG’s (Voice Of Anti-Capitalism in Guildford) library on the cuts: The truth behind the Con-Dem lies.

The VOAG has been reading a few trades-union leaflets regarding the economy and the necessity of public spending cuts. There are alternatives to public spending cuts – Click the links below to expose the lies of the coalition.Pamphlet: All Together Campaign by the TUC – Read here: 
https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/tuc-all-together-capaign-myth-buster.pdf
Pamphlet on the cuts by the TUC – Read here:
https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/tuc-cuts-pamphlet.pdf
Pamphlet on the cuts by the PCS union – Read here: https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/4015_nc_pamphlet1.pdf
Pamphlet: Public Spending Myths by Unison – Read here:
https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/public-spending-myths.pdf

OUR PENSIONS ARE IN DANGER
Demonstrate March 26th.

The Independent Public Service Pensions Commission, headed by John Hutton, released its report two days ago. Even before the report was released, the Government announced they were increasing employee contributions by 50%. The government also announced ahead of the report that pensions will be accrued using the consumer price index (CPI) rather than the current retail price index (RPI). This will slash about 15 per cent from the average pension values.

A crucial proposal of The Hutton report is to change public sector pensions from a final salary based pension to a “career average pension”. This follows last autumn’s proposals in the Comprehensive Spending Review to increase pension contributions by 3%. Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey, described it as a “£2. 8 billion annual ’raid’ on public sector pensions” and said: “Ministers were using the public sector pension funds as a piggy bank.”

The report supported the government’s plans to raise the retirement age to 65, which will further reduce pension calculations as people begin to retire before the pension age. It also reaffirms George Osborne’s plans for a Pension tax that seeks to impose an annual £1billion levy on members of the Local Government Pension Scheme.

Already many lower-paid public service workers cannot afford to be part of the pension scheme. One in four workers who are eligible to join the scheme opt out, and participation levels are on a downward trend. Huttons recommendations will exasperate the situation. Many workers, after a life time of public service will retire at 65 and live out their retirement in penury. A GMB Union survey of its members, who are in the LGPS (Local Government Pension Scheme) found that 39% – 53% would opt out if the Osborne Pension Tax was imposed.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS Union (Public and Commercial Services) said: “For civil servants, increased costs would go straight to the Treasury to pay off the deficit. Even the Bank of England governor Mervyn King admits it would mean the wrong people were paying for the recession and agrees with us that public spending did not cause the financial crisis”.

National Union of Teachers General Secretary, Christine Blower said: “increasing pension contributions by more than half will cost newly qualified teachers up to £61 a month and experienced classroom teachers up to £102 a month – an additional cost which will see many leaving the Teachers’ Pensions Scheme”. She added: “The real pension problem is in the private sector where two-thirds of employees are not in any employer-backed scheme. We need decent pensions for all.”

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary, remarked yesterday: “There is a lot of nonsense talked about public sector pensions – they are not gold plated. The average is very low -in local government, the average is just over £4,000, falling to £2,800 for women”.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary said: “This is the great pension’s robbery and is completely unacceptable to fire-fighters across the UK”. “Expecting fire-fighters to work until they are 60 is wrong. Fire fighting is a physically arduous job. Peak fitness is essential where seconds can cost lives. The public will not want an ageing frontline fire and rescue service.”

“These proposals are unacceptable. The Fire Brigades Union has a warning for the chancellor. Reject Hutton’s pension proposals or you’ll be playing with fire. Fire-fighters simply won’t accept them.”

Bob Cow reacted to the report saying: “Pensions are nothing other than deferred wages – staff pay into these schemes to avoid freezing to death in their old age”. “The Hutton Review will be the spark that lights the blue touch paper of co-ordinated strike action”.

Most Union leaders are offering nothing more than vague threats of unspecified “co-ordinated action”, whilst wasting their time begging the government to sit round the table and discuss the pension issue.

The UCU (University and College Union), however are already planning strikes across the country. These are due to take place between the 17th and 24th of March. Sally Hunt, the general secretary said: “pensions compensate for the lower salaries lecturers receive for researching and teaching in universities, compared to what they would get if they chose to use their highly-specialised knowledge and skills elsewhere”.

There is a lot of misinformation about public sector pension schemes. The facts are:

  • The local government and NHS pension schemes were renegotiated in 2006 to make them sustainable and affordable.
  • Both schemes are cash rich – more is going in than coming out.
  • Currently the NHS Pension Scheme returns a surplus of £2.3bn to Treasury enabling it to fund Government spending in other areas, such as boosting state pension provision for all. The LGPS has an annual cash flow surplus of £4bn.
  • The legacy of making swingeing cuts to the pension provision for 20% of the population, or pricing them out of pension saving altogether, will be increased pensioner poverty and more pressure on state benefits and public services.
  • The average pension in public service pension schemes is very low, for example in local government, the average is just over £4,000, falling to £2,800 for women.
  • If these people didn’t save for their retirement, they would have to rely on means-tested benefits paid for by the taxpayer.
  • Pensioners are already being hit with the move from RPI to CPI to calculate annual inflation increases – this will reduce their value by 15%.
  • When the NHS scheme was renegotiated, protection was built in for current members to retain their retirement age of 60. New members have a retirement age of 65. If that agreement is broken, industrial action could follow.
  • Government cuts to local government employers grants mean that the shortfall in pension contributions has to be made up by employees. They may have to pay between 50% and 100% more for a reduced pension. This is effectively a tax on low paid workers.
  • Studies have shown that if the contributions rise too much, workers will desert the local government scheme and it could collapse.
  • The local government scheme invests more than £100billion in the UK economy. If the scheme collapsed, it would have a devastating impact on the economy.

The Poverty Premium –
It’s not cheap being poor

It is a shocking fact that families on a low income are still paying more for their basic goods and services than better-off families says a Save the Children report published this week. Save the Children has calculated that this annual ‘poverty premium’ can amount to more than £1,280 for a typical low-income family. Moreover, the poverty premium has risen by over £280 since Save the Children’s original research was conducted in 2007.

The poverty premium
The poverty premium is a notional extra cost that people on lower incomes can pay for goods and services, compared with the cost that is paid for the same goods and services by higher-income families.

Their report sets out the scale of the poverty premium and focuses particularly on the extra cost of gas and electricity bills, which account for 20% of the premium. Of all the elements of the poverty premium, the cost of gas and electricity to keep a home warm is an expense that no family can avoid. There is a clear link between living in cold, damp conditions for long periods and significant health risks. Families who cannot afford to pay the cost of heating their home adequately are putting their children’s health at risk says the report.

All children have the right to the best health possible, yet the evidence in Save the Children’s report shows how families on a low income struggle to pay for their gas and electricity and frequently compromise the warmth of their homes to reduce their bills. Of those who are fuel poor, 16.1% are families with children aged under 16, up from 11.8% in 2003. Many of these families will not be eligible for the government’s proposed Warm Home Discount.

The highest charges for gas and electricity are paid by those families who have a prepayment meter or who pay by standard credit. Prepayment meters are often installed for families on a low income who want to budget weekly or have been in debt. If families on a low income who pay the highest tariffs for gas and electricity- because they use payment meters- were charged the same amount as families who pay by direct debit, they would save, on average, over £250 a year. Save the Children is calling for all industries to ensure that the poorest do not pay more.

Low-income families shouldn’t be penalised for being poor. To ensure a fairer system for all vulnerable families, the report calls for all energy companies to provide a fixed rebate under the Warm Home Discount for families on a low income with children, using receipt of Child Tax Credit and income below £16,190 as a proxy for fuel poverty. (£16,190 is the first income threshold for entitlement to Child Tax Credit only.)

Save the Children is calling for The Department for Work and Pensions and the energy suppliers to run a pilot program to assess the feasibility of data-sharing, to allow direct payment of rebates to low-income families; to raise awareness of their rebates by promoting it to all customers; and to provide adequate notification of price increases to prepayment meter customers.The cost of living for low income families
Rising costs for low-income families comes at a time when the government is committed to cutting the welfare budget and public services. Families on low incomes are disproportionately reliant on welfare and public services, and consequently cuts in both areas of government spending will have serious impacts on the poorest. This new financial austerity comes on top of existing difficulties that low-income families have to overcome to make ends meet. It is mainly those on low incomes who tend to be unable to access favourable payment terms, whether for household or personal items they need to buy, fuel they need to purchase or loans they need to secure.

For many families on low incomes, the amount they either earn (from low-paid work) or receive in benefits is not enough to cover their basic living costs. A couple working full-time with two children needs £29,731 a year, or £402.83 per week (excluding money for rent and childcare), to afford a basic but acceptable standard of living. The same family on benefits will only receive £235.29 per week, which is 62% of the amount they need. Church Action on Poverty’s recent research report has provided further evidence of the difficulties families are having in meeting basic living costs. The report concludes that families on a low income need to borrow to survive.

Many low-income households choose to manage their budget in cash to ensure they have control over their total spending, which is a rational, safe approach that limits risk and minimises exposure to unexpected costs and outgoings. Many households (690,000 in 2007/8) do not have access to a bank account or other banking facilities that would allow them to pay a range of bills by direct debit, which is often the cheapest payment option for products and services. Some low-income families have a poor credit history, which means they have no access to affordable, low or no interest credit. The credit that they can access is therefore charged at the highest interest rates in the market.

The cost of credit
Households with a low or variable income often have a poor or non-existent credit history and are therefore unable to access reasonably priced credit from mainstream lenders (banks and building societies). Often the only option available is from commercial lenders (rent-to-buy, catalogues, doorstep lenders) who charge high interest rates on goods with a mark-up on retail prices. The annual percentage rate (APR) charged by commercial lenders can vary from 50–1,000%, compared with less than 30% APR charged by a mainstream lender. A basic household cooker can cost a family without access to low-interest credit a total of £669, more than two and a half times the cost of the same cooker bought outright.

The cost of borrowing
Low-income families with a poor credit history who need to borrow cash do not have the option of using a 0% bank overdraft facility or securing a low-interest bank or credit card loan. The only options available are high cost, such as doorstep lenders. A £500 cash loan from a doorstep lender could cost the borrower £750.

The cost of quick money: pawnbrokers, payday lenders and cheque cashing
A household may need to be able to access cash at short notice, but for those without a bank account this could mean using pawnbrokers, payday lenders or buy-back stores. A loan from a pawnbroker of £100 over six months will cost between 5% and 12% per month (equivalent to an APR of 70% to 100%), making the total cost of the loan between £170 and £200. Households without a bank account who need to cash a £200 cheque from a third party quickly will be charged a fixed fee and interest. For example, a £200 cheque would cost £12 to cash at Cash Converters.

The cost of insurance
Those on lower incomes often pay more for insurance. Insurance premiums are calculated in accordance with the risk of an event, and those on low incomes tend to live in areas where there is a higher risk of car crime and property theft. Families on a low income who live in more deprived areas can pay on average 48% more for car insurance and 93% more for home contents insurance.

The cost of gas and electricity
The extra cost of gas and electricity for low-income families accounts for 20% of the poverty premium. This significant additional cost arises because many low-income families pay for their gas and electricity using prepayment meters, which attract one of the highest tariffs. The lowest tariffs are offered by energy suppliers to customers who can either pay by direct debit, online, or who are eligible for the supplier’s social tariff. Low-income families who do not have a bank account cannot make direct debit payments. In addition, the eligibility criteria for the social tariffs of five of the ‘big six’ energy suppliers do not include families with children. In the last six years gas and electricity bills have more than doubled, and it is predicted that these increases will continue. Any across the board percentage increases in the cost of gas or electricity tariffs will have the greatest impact on those paying the highest tariffs – in other words, those using prepayment meters, including many low-income families. It is therefore likely that the poorest will be hardest hit by increases in energy costs.

Families on a low income with children can be affected by a number of difficulties when it comes to paying their energy bills. In addition to having to use payment methods that incur an expensive tariff and not being eligible for the current option for cheaper fuel under the social tariff, they often:
• Accumulate debt because they cannot afford their energy bills
• Are less aware of their energy use and how it is charged
• Lack access to information that would allow them to identify and secure cheaper energy deals.

Fuel poverty
The consequence of high fuel costs for those on a low income is fuel poverty – defined as being where households have to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel. Ofgem estimates that there are 5 million people in fuel poverty in the UK, representing about 18% of all households. In the UK, 7% of lone-parent households and 9.9% of couples with children live in fuel poverty. No parent wants to put their children’s health at risk, but figures for the UK showed that 5% of children were living in accommodation with inadequate heating. Cold living conditions increase children’s susceptibility to illness, compromise healthy weight gain and are detrimental to children’s respiratory health. A recent study has shown that respiratory problems were more than twice as prevalent in children who lived for three years or longer in homes that lack affordable warmth (15%), compared with children who had never lived in homes that were hard to heat during the previous five years (7%). In addition, it has shown that the mental health of adolescents can also suffer if homes are poorly heated. Families who can only afford to heat one room risk reducing their children’s education attainment if there is no warm, peaceful space to do homework. When inadequate heating is improved, research has recorded a marked reduction in the number of days pupils have off school. The government recognised the link between fuel poverty, inadequately heated homes and poor health and introduced the Fuel Poverty Strategy 2001.

The Strategy aims to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 and “to ensure that by 2010 no older householder, no family with children, and no householder who is disabled or has a long-term illness need risk ill health due to a cold home” (p.10). It is unlikely that the government will hit its targets, largely because of the unprecedented increases in gas and electricity bills between 2003 and 2009. In response to these developments, the government has announced an independent review of the fuel poverty target and definitions. The introduction of a social tariff was one scheme to tackle fuel poverty. It has been partially successful in reducing the cost of gas and electricity for vulnerable groups but its impact has been focused on pensioner households, leaving other vulnerable groups, including low-income families with children, still paying relatively high fuel costs. As stated above, only one of the major six energy suppliers includes families on a low income with children in their eligibility criteria. So, in effect, a family on a low income that is eligible for a social tariff from one energy supplier could be denied the social tariff of another. Save the Children has conducted a qualitative research study that asked a group of families who are affected by the poverty premium about their experiences of paying for their gas and electricity. The research shows that families interviewed were not aware of the existence of social tariffs; had only a limited knowledge of their own tariff and energy costs, and had no appreciation of the information available to help them secure cheaper energy bills. Without the information, or access to the best deal, they are left paying more than they need to and are yet more vulnerable to fuel poverty.
Warm Home Discount

The government’s consultation paper, Warm Home Discount proposes that in England, Scotland and Wales, the social tariff is replaced by a fixed rebate on electricity bills that will be sent directly to a core group of pensioners on pension credit (with the scope of eligibility increasing between 2011 and 2015) using a data-matching system between the energy companies and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The value of the rebate will increase from £130 to £140 by 2015. The consultation paper also proposes that the same fixed rebate should be given to a broad group of consumers who are vulnerable to fuel poverty. Energy companies will be given discretion to decide which of their customers should be included within the broader group.

Under the previous voluntary system, energy companies were given discretion to decide which of their customers would benefit from the social tariff. As already discussed, the outcome was that only one of the largest six energy companies ensured low-income families with children were eligible for their social tariff. The current proposals for Warm Home Discount risk repeating the same inequity. Energy companies could still decide not to include low-income families with children within their broader discretionary group. The result would be that families who struggle to pay their fuel bills will again miss out on financial support. Save the Children’s report calls for the government to ensure that low-income families with children are included within the group that receives the fixed rebate. This would lower the cost of fuel for these families and thereby reduce their poverty premium. Families with lower fuel bills would be able to heat their homes adequately without fear of going into debt. We propose that families with an annual income below £16,190 and in receipt of Child Tax Credit should be eligible for the rebate so that the mistake of leaving children out, made under the social tariff system, is not repeated. A pilot data-sharing project could be undertaken for families in receipt of Child Tax Credit, in the same way that a pilot project was run to establish the feasibility of data-sharing for pensioners on Pension Credit between the DWP and the energy companies.

Prepayment meters
A prepayment meter is a system that requires cash to be paid before energy can be consumed. Some meters take cards or tokens on to which cash can be credited. The tariffs charged for prepayment meters are more expensive than direct debit or online tariffs. Yet despite the relatively high cost, the majority of families on prepayment meters have an annual income less than £17,500. In Britain, 13% of households pay for their gas and/or electricity using prepayment meters, with almost two-thirds of these households using prepayment meters to pay for both gas and electricity. More than half of households on prepayment meters receive a means-tested benefit or benefits for disability. Ofgem’s own investigation found that prepayment meter customers were paying a premium that was greater than the extra costs involved in supplying the energy via the meter.

To ensure that the tariff for prepayment meters was cost-reflective, Ofgem introduced new licensing conditions for energy suppliers. Since September 2009 the new conditions have required energy suppliers to ensure that the price paid by prepayment meter customers reflects the cost of this form of supply, when compared with direct debit and standard credit tariffs. Ofgem have concluded that the new conditions have led to the average premium for prepayment meters compared with direct debit falling to £69 from £111 since October 2007. Nevertheless, Save the Children’s investigation into the cost of the poverty premium based on a real-life example revealed a differential of £253.

The prepayment meter can be an effective debt management system for the energy company because it allows the amount owing (or a portion of it) to be taken from future cash deposits into the meter, before calculating the remaining credit available. In 2007, more than 350,000 pre-payment meters were installed; 63% of these were put in place to recover debt. Some families who have tried to change from a prepayment meter to an alternative cheaper payment method have found their plan effectively blocked because the energy companies charge them a deposit of £250. This additional cost would prohibit many low income families from switching. The high tariffs associated with prepayment meters result in high fuel bills for low-income families and these in turn can lead to debt. Despite trying to budget for fuel costs, many families find themselves in debt, particularly during the winter.

A number of families featured in Save the Children’s report say they put double the amount into the prepayment meter in the winter compared with the summer. Families who try to avoid debt describe a range of approaches to minimise their energy use, many of which amount to self disconnection or self-rationing. These can have a significant negative impact on the health and wellbeing of families.

Some families have to bear the cost of using the ‘emergency‘ facility. In a worst-case scenario, a household may find that it is on a prepayment meter but is not eligible for the social tariff offered by local energy suppliers. The household may then find itself also paying off arrears from a (previously unknown) price increase, as well as paying back debt accrued from previous bills. In addition, it may be paying the charge to use the ‘emergency’ facility. The scale of these costs for families on a low income is significant.

In 2009 there were 502,631 customers repaying electricity debt through prepayment meters and 365,036 customers repaying gas debt through prepayment. Once an energy company has installed a prepayment meter to recoup debt from a family, it can be very difficult for the family to change to another payment method as a way of reducing their energy bills. Paula, mother of one, explained that she had got into arrears of approximately £800 when she was paying quarterly bills and the energy company had installed a prepayment meter to collect the arrears at a rate of £3.50 per week. Lana, her partner and three children had had a prepayment meter installed and reported that, “of every £10 which went on, £3 went towards paying arrears”. Matt explained that he had topped their gas up by £10 the previous day; after their arrears were taken off they were left with £3. This allowed “the four children to have a bath, and us to have the heating on for one and a half hours at tea time to warm the house up”.

Awareness and consumer choice
The current energy market works best for customers who are aware of their energy use and charges and who can navigate the information energy companies provide to minimise their costs. Informed consumers are able to switch between suppliers to get the cheapest deal, and price comparison websites can make this process more straightforward. However, research reveals that lack of awareness stops many families from accessing the best prices.

This lack of awareness is compounded by a lack of access to information, which is primarily through the Internet. Many low-income families do not have Internet access. Although 70% of households in the UK had access to the Internet by the end of March 2009, 50% of households with an income below £11,500 did not have Internet access, compared with 5% of households with an income of over £30,000. A lack of awareness and lack of access to information restricts consumer choice. Price comparison websites show that customers who are able to pay by direct debit from a bank account can secure the lowest cost for their energy. This price difference for families who cannot pay by direct debit amounts to an extra £250 a year.

The Forestry Commission costs the public less than a packet of crisps a year.

“It is difficult to see how the role of the Forestry Commission could remain viable with its most lucrative forests removed from its control”.
Rhoda Grant, MSP rural development spokesperson.

In a report in Sunday’s LabourNet Newsletter,  David Tilley of the Public and Commercial Services union writes: The Forestry Commission, the public body responsible for managing the UK’s forests, costs less than the price of a packet of crisps a year for each person in England.

The value for money provided by the Forestry Commission, at less than 30p each every year, is highlighted as the government prepares to sell off forests with a ’consultation’ expected to be launched today (27 January).

The union, which represents 900 staff at the commission, says the government should keep the whole of the English public forests in public ownership and publicly run.

The Forestry Commission currently runs multipurpose forests – visited by 40 million people a year – providing economic, social and environmental benefits, as required by internationally recognised principles for good forest management.

Public ownership ensures the commission carries out a wide range of functions that the union does not believe can be provided by the private and voluntary sectors.

In 2009 the commission conducted a detailed study of the long-term role of public forests that concluded public ownership was essential in supporting the forestry estate.

Private sector owners would inevitably want to make a profit and would be likely to cut down swathes of forests, restrict public access and facilities, and would not provide the same level of support for environmental objectives.

With charities having to rely on fundraising, as well as support from taxpayer-funded grants, the union does not believe there are any savings to the exchequer from such a transfer.

In a recent YouGov poll for campaign group 38 Degrees, 84% of the public said they did not want their forests sold for private profit, and more than 200, 000 people have signed a petition to oppose the sell-off.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our public forests are extremely important for the environment, for wildlife and to help solve problems such as climate change. The government is putting all this at risk with a dangerous ideological plan to sell them off to the highest bidder.

“While the voluntary sector does a lot of good work in our forests, we do not believe volunteers can replace experienced staff and forest managers. With the Forestry Commission providing such good value for money the alternative is clear, and the government should scrap its plans to allow big businesses to profit from our natural environment.“

The nearest forests to Guildford that will be sold off under the governments proposals are Blackdown Forest near Haslemere and  Holt Forest near Farnham. 

Ministers plan huge sell-off of Britain’s forests https://suacs.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/guildford-against-fees-and-cuts-7/

Holt Forest near Farnham may be sold off
https://suacs.wordpress.com/?s=forest
Visit Guildford Against Fees And Cuts Facebook page for details of the TUC demonstration, March 26th. Subsidised travel is available from Guildford.

This is the Big Society, you see. It must be big, to contain so many volunteers.

 Last week in the excellent False Economy, which campaigns against the Coalition government’s strategy of cuts, Stephanie Kitchen reported that Oxford’s town hall was packed with over 300 people who gathered to oppose the County Council’s plan to shut 20 of the county’s 43 public libraries. The author, Philip Pullman, spoke to the meeting.

Oxfordshire’s County Council pounced on the ‘Big Society’ to deflect responsibility for the cuts in local services, suggesting that communities bid for sums to run libraries – and a range of other services – on a volunteer basis. Aside from denigrating the professionalism of librarians, Philip asked the meeting where will the volunteers come from….

Cuts to libraries and other public services are certainly coming to Guildford. Indeed they have already arrived. The County Council has already tabled the idea of closing libraries- And it is due to be discussed further at the next Surrey County Council Cabinet meeting to be held on the 1st February. 

Any decisions that are made will be ratified at the meeting of the full Council due to be held on the 8th February. The Voice Of Anti-Capitalism together with Save Our Services in Surrey, local trades unionists and campaigners will be lobbying the full council meeting on the 8th. It is important that we make our opposition felt with a big presence. For further details of the lobby visit Guilford Against Fees And Cuts Facebook page or email guildfordagainstfeesandcuts@yahoo.co.uk. And please join us if you can! 

Philip Pullman’s speech was published on the amazing opendemocracy blog, http://www.opendemocracy.net it’s such a great speech that The Voice Of Anti-Capitalism in Guildford has re- published the entire text here. 

Here in Oxfordshire we are threatened with the closure of 20 out of our 43 public libraries. Mr Keith Mitchell, the leader of the county council, said in the Oxford Times last week that the cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead. What would we cut? Would we sacrifice care for the elderly? Or would youth services feel the axe?I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them. Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way? If there’s anyone who has the time and the energy to work for nothing in a good cause, they are probably already working for one of the voluntary sector day centers or running a local football team or helping out with the league of friends in a hospital. What’s going to make them stop doing that and start working in a library instead?

Especially since the council is hoping that the youth service, which by a strange coincidence is also going to lose 20 centers, will be staffed by – guess what – volunteers. Are these the same volunteers, or a different lot of volunteers?

This is the Big Society, you see. It must be big, to contain so many volunteers. But there’s a prize being dangled in front of these imaginary volunteers. People who want to save their library, we’re told, are going to be “allowed to bid” for some money from a central pot. We must sit up and beg for it, like little dogs, and wag our tails when we get a bit.

The sum first mentioned was £200,000. Divide that between the 20 libraries due for closure and it comes to £10,000 each, which doesn’t seem like very much to me. But of course it’s not going to be equally divided. Some bids will be preferred, others rejected. And then comes the trick: they “generously” increase the amount to be bid for. It’s not £200,000. It’s £600,000. It’s a victory for the volunteers. Hoorah for the Big Society! We’ve “won” some more money!

Oh, but wait a minute. This isn’t £600,000 for the libraries. It turns out that that sum is to be bid for by everyone who runs anything at all. All those volunteers bidding like mad will soon chip away at the £600,000. A day care centre here, a special transport service there, an adult learning course somewhere else, all full of keen-eyed volunteers bidding away like mad, and before you know it the amount available to libraries has suddenly shrunk. Why should libraries have a whole third of all the Big Society money?

But just for the sake of simplicity let’s imagine it’s only libraries. Imagine two communities that have been told their local library is going to be closed. One of them is full of people with generous pension arrangements, plenty of time on their hands, lots of experience of negotiating planning applications and that sort of thing, broadband connections to every household, two cars in every drive, neighbourhood watch schemes in every road, all organised and ready to go. Now I like people like that. They are the backbone of many communities. I approve of them and of their desire to do something for their villages or towns. I’m not knocking them.

But they do have certain advantages that the other community, the second one I’m talking about, does not. There people are out of work, there are a lot of single parent households, young mothers struggling to look after their toddlers, and as for broadband and two cars, they might have a slow old computer if they’re lucky and a beaten-up old van and they dread the MOT test – people for whom a trip to the centre of Oxford takes a lot of time to organise, a lot of energy to negotiate, getting the children into something warm, getting the buggy set up and the baby stuff all organised, and the bus isn’t free, either – you can imagine it. Which of those two communities will get a bid organised to fund their local library?

But one of the few things that make life bearable for the young mother in the second community at the moment is a weekly story session in the local library, the one just down the road. She can go there with the toddler and the baby and sit in the warmth, in a place that’s clean and safe and friendly, a place that makes her and the children welcome. But has she, have any of the mothers or the older people who use the library, got all that hinterland of wealth and social confidence and political connections and administrative experience and spare time and energy to enable them to be volunteers on the same basis as the people in the first community? And how many people can volunteer to do this, when they’re already doing so much else?

What I personally hate about this bidding culture is that it sets one community, one group, one school, against another. If one wins, the other loses. I’ve always hated it. It started coming in when I left the teaching profession 25 years ago, and I could see the way things were going then. In a way it’s an abdication of responsibility. We elect people to decide things, and they don’t really want to decide, so they set up this bidding nonsense and then they aren’t really responsible for the outcome. “Well, if the community really wanted it, they would have put in a better bid … Nothing I can do about it … My hands are tied …”

And it always results in victory for one side and defeat for the other. It’s set up to do that. It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market. Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. I think that little by little we’re waking up to the truth about the market fanatics and their creed. We’re coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we know, everything we thought was safe and solid. It is the most powerful solvent known to history. “Everything solid melts into air,” he said. “All that is holy is profaned.”

Market fundamentalism, this madness that’s infected the human race, is like a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms and council chambers and committee rooms from which the world is run these days.

In the world I know about, the world of books and publishing and bookselling, it used to be the case that a publisher would read a book and like it and publish it. They’d back their judgment on the quality of the book and their feeling about whether the author had more books in him or in her, and sometimes the book would sell lots of copies and sometimes it wouldn’t, but that didn’t much matter because they knew it took three or four books before an author really found his or her voice and got the attention of the public. And there were several successful publishers who knew that some of their authors would never sell a lot of copies, but they kept publishing them because they liked their work. It was a human occupation run by human beings. It was about books, and people were in publishing or bookselling because they believed that books were the expression of the human spirit, vessels of delight or of consolation or enlightenment.

Not any more, because the greedy ghost of market madness has got into the controlling heights of publishing. Publishers are run by money people now, not book people. The greedy ghost whispers into their ears: Why are you publishing that man? He doesn’t sell enough. Stop publishing him. Look at this list of last year’s books: over half of them weren’t bestsellers. This year you must only publish bestsellers. Why are you publishing this woman? She’ll only appeal to a small minority. Minorities are no good to us. We want to double the return we get on each book we publish.

So decisions are made for the wrong reasons. The human joy and pleasure goes out of it; books are published not because they’re good books but because they’re just like the books that are in the bestseller lists now, because the only measure is profit.

The greedy ghost is everywhere. That office block isn’t making enough money: tear it down and put up a block of flats. The flats aren’t making enough money: rip them apart and put up a hotel. The hotel isn’t making enough money: smash it to the ground and put up a multiplex cinema. The cinema isn’t making enough money: demolish it and put up a shopping mall.

The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all he understands. What he doesn’t understand is enterprises that don’t make a profit, because they’re not set up to do that but to do something different. He doesn’t understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for library cards? Why don’t you charge for every catalogue search? Reserving books – you should charge a lot more for that. Those bookshelves over there – what’s on them? Philosophy? And how many people looked at them last week? Three? Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs. That’s all the greedy ghost thinks libraries are for.

And you could go a little further back to the end of the nineteenth century and look at the ideas of “scientific management”, as it was called, the idea of Frederick Taylor that you could get more work out of an employee by splitting up his job into tiny parts and timing how long it took to do each one, and so on – the transformation of human craftsmanship into mechanical mass production.

And you could go on, further back in time, way back before recorded history. The ultimate source is probably the tendency in some of us, part of our psychological inheritance from our far-distant ancestors, the tendency to look for extreme solutions, absolute truths, abstract answers. All fanatics and fundamentalists share this tendency, which is so alien and unpleasing to the rest of us. The theory says they must do such-and-such, so they do it, never mind the human consequences, never mind the social cost, never mind the terrible damage to the fabric of everything decent and humane.

I’m afraid these fundamentalists of one sort or another will always be with us. We just have to keep them as far away as possible from the levers of power. But I’ll finish by coming back to libraries. I want to say something  about my own relationship with libraries. Apparently Mr Mitchell thinks that we authors who defend libraries are only doing it because we have a vested interest – because we’re in it for the money. I thought the general custom of public discourse was to go through the substantial arguments before descending to personal abuse. If he’s doing it so early in the discussion, it’s a sure sign he hasn’t got much faith in the rest of his case.

No, Mr Mitchell, it isn’t for the money. I’m doing it for love. I still remember the first library ticket I ever had. It must have been about 1957. My mother took me to the public library just off Battersea Park Road and enrolled me. I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with: the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; a French novel for children called A Hundred Million Francs; why did I like that? Why did I read it over and over again, and borrow it many times? I don’t know. But what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, you can become their friend and share their adventures in your own imagination.

And the secrecy of it! The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?

Somewhere in Blackbird Leys, somewhere in Berinsfield, somewhere in Botley, somewhere in Benson or in Bampton, to name only the communities beginning with B whose libraries are going to be abolished, somewhere in each of them there is a child right now, there are children, just like me at that age in Battersea, children who only need to make that discovery to learn that they too are citizens of the republic of reading. Only the public library can give them that gift.

A little later, when we were living in north Wales, there was a mobile library that used to travel around the villages and came to us once a fortnight. I suppose I would have been about sixteen. One day I saw a novel whose cover intrigued me, so I took it out, knowing nothing of the author. It was called Balthazar, by Lawrence Durrell. The Alexandria Quartet – we’re back to Alexandria again – was very big at that time; highly praised, made much fuss of. It’s less highly regarded now, but I’m not in the habit of dissing what I once loved, and I fell for this book and the others, Justine, Mountolive, Clea, which I hastened to read after it. I adored these stories of wealthy cosmopolitan bohemian people having affairs and talking about life and art and things in that beautiful city. Another great gift from the public library.

Then I came to Oxford as an undergraduate, and all the riches of the Bodleian Library, one of the greatest libraries in the world, were open to me – theoretically. In practice I didn’t dare go in. I was intimidated by all that grandeur. I didn’t learn the ropes of the Bodleian till much later, when I was grown up. The library I used as a student was the old public library, round the back of this very building. If there’s anyone as old as I am here, you might remember it. One day I saw a book by someone I’d never heard of, Frances Yates, called Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. I read it enthralled and amazed. It changed my life, or at least the intellectual direction in which I was going. It certainly changed the novel, my first, that I was tinkering with instead of studying for my final exams. Again, a life-changing discovery, only possible because there was a big room with a lot of books and I was allowed to range wherever I liked and borrow any of them.

One final memory, this time from just a couple of years ago: I was trying to find out where all the rivers and streams ran in Oxford, for a book I’m writing called The Book of Dust. I went to the Central Library and there, with the help of a clever member of staff, I managed to find some old maps that showed me exactly what I wanted to know, and I photocopied them, and now they are pinned to my wall where I can see exactly what I want to know.

The public library, again. Yes, I’m writing a book, Mr Mitchell, and yes, I hope it’ll make some money. But I’m not praising the public library service for money. I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.

I love it for that, and so do the citizens of Summertown, Headington, Littlemore, Old Marston, Blackbird Leys, Neithrop, Adderbury, Bampton, Benson, Berinsfield, Botley, Charlbury, Chinnor, Deddington, Woodcote, Guildford -And Battersea- And Alexandria.

Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.
Philip Pullman, 25 January 2011

About the author
Philip Pullman, novelist and advocate of the literary imagination, was born in Norwich in 1946. His most well-known work is the trilogy His Dark Materials. He has been awarded the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children’s Book Award, and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award – the first time it was given to a children’s book. 

Save Our libraries campaign: http://www.librarycampaign.com
Save Our Services in Surrey: www.saveourservic.es 

Join Guildford Against Fees And Cuts on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Guildford-Against-Fees-Cuts/167151436659040

Whilst rumors abound of cuts around Surrey, the Council has been tight lipped about where the axe is going to fall.

There is a Council Cabinet meeting of the council February 1st, which will discuss the cuts in detail. On February 8th there is a meeting of the full council scheduled which will finally decide on the budget for the coming year. What is clear, the reduced government block grant is set to have an impact on services.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said in December there would be cuts of between 0.31% and 6.96% in the ‘revenue spending power’ of Surrey’s 11 borough and district authorities, plus the county council.

But the real figures for reductions in funding which comes direct from central government are much higher, as the revenue spending power totals included council tax money – which is collected locally – plus other smaller grants separate from the core ‘formula grant’.

The council funding settlements for 2011/12 and 2012/13 are provisional and the final figures have still to be confirmed. Council tax rates are set to be frozen for the next financial year, and Mr Pickles said: “We are stopping any revaluation and setting up a £650m fund so town halls can freeze council tax this April.”

But local authorities in the county, where cuts to jobs and services have been part of the landscape in recent years, warned of challenging times ahead.

Surrey County Council said its main central government grant was being cut by 25% over the two years, meaning a £41m funding reduction. Teams have already started cost-cutting ‘Public Value Reviews’ with the intention of making public service cuts like the proposed 25% cuts to the county’s fire service.

In Woking, voluntary and community groups will be asked to play a greater role in council services from next year -after a higher than expected cut in the borough’s annual grant. A total of £1.7m will be shaved off its contribution from central government up to 2013, equating to a 28.5% cut in Whitehall funding.

The borough council’s leader, Cllr John Kingsbury, said they were looking at following up the move of neighborhood police officers into Woking’s civic offices by inviting other public sector bodies to do the same. He added: “We will do things like looking at our investment programme, among other things, between now and February. The fact is, we need to save £1m.”

The formula grant cuts for Guildford Borough Council have been set at 15.7% (£1.2m) for 2011/12 and 11.3% (£731,000) for 2012/13. Leader of the council, Cllr Tony Rooth, said: “This is a very tough financial settlement but is in line with our projections. “We have been working across all our services to identify ways of making reductions in our expenditure and increasing our income, such that we can meet the financial challenges with the minimum impact on our residents.”

Before this week’s announcement, the council had already flagged up areas where savings could be made, such as axing the £100,000 staff subsidy at its restaurant. Strategic director Sue Sturgeon said it was still too early to finalise any spending cuts, but she added that other revenue streams, including car parks and the Spectrum leisure centre, were also suffering because of the recession.

Surrey Heath Borough Council said it had been taken unawares by the depth of the cuts made to its funding. The authority is set to lose more than £1m from its government grant over the next two years. Kelvin Menon, the borough’s head of corporate finance, said: “The proposed cuts are much deeper than the council expected, making them far harder to manage”.

“Surrey Heath Borough Council has already made significant savings in the past and it will be increasingly difficult to make savings of this size in the future without having an impact on services”. Surrey Heath’s main formula grant from central government was £4.4m this year. It will shrink to £3.6m and then £3.1m over the next two financial years. The borough council has already scrapped the full time Ian Goodchild day centre for the elderly in Camberley, while fees and charges for services like Meals-on-Wheels and Dial-a-Ride have risen.

In Elmbridge, the borough council admitted it faced a “huge challenge” after it was hit by the largest ever cut to its central government grant – double what officers had anticipated when setting out budget plans for the next financial year. The authority said it would now have to find further savings of £300,000 in order to balance the books. It said it was set to lose a third of its funding from Whitehall over the next two years – with reductions of 16.8% in 2011/12 and then 13.5% in 2012/13.

Jobs are set to be axed in the personnel, environmental health and licensing, housing and social services teams. The out-of-hours services will be scrapped, cutting £14,500 from the budget, and £15,000 will be saved after a decision to stop providing ‘poop scoop’ dispensers. Information for residents will be published online rather than in leaflet form, saving around £2,300. Elmbridge will also share the role of head of IT with Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, meaning another £35,000 of savings.

In Epsom & Ewell itself, the cuts in central government funding were said to be “as bad as expected” – 16.5% in 2011/12 and a further 10% in 2012/13. The borough’s formula grant is set to plummet from £4.1m at the moment to £2.8m. The council has made preparations for cost reductions of £750,000 next year, including a further pay freeze except for low paid staff, redundancies to cut the payroll by £500,000 and other savings on overheads including energy usage, training and external advisers.  

District council services will have to be provided next year in Mole Valley with almost 18% less government money. Its £4m grant will go down to £2.92m, followed by a further £375,000 cut in 2012/13. Saving money in Mole Valley has already hit services over the past couple of years, including leisure, maintenance of parks and recycling facilities. Dorking Halls has seen its budget slashed and was only able to stage a pantomime this year due to the intervention of a production company.

Waverley Borough Council has been left to find another £400,000 of savings after a “disappointing” grant settlement from central government. “The harsh reality is that we are facing a 17% reduction for 2011/12 and 14% for the following year,” said finance portfolio holder, Cllr Mike Band.” This is approaching a cut of 30%, which is a significant amount and it will have a further impact on our budget.”

Waverley had based its budget preparations for next year on having to find savings of about £1.6m, but Cllr Band said: “We will now have to save £2m, so a further £400,000 of savings will have to be found. Council leader, Cllr Robert Knowles, described the grant settlement as unfair and said they would be making “urgent representations” on the matter to MPs Anne Milton and Jeremy Hunt.

Reigate & Banstead Borough Council is due to see a formula grant drop from £6.1m now to £5.1m in 2011/12 and then £4.6m the year after (16.4% and 8.9% cuts for the two years). Council leader, Cllr Joan Spiers, added: “Clearly running a business with 25% less money over the next two years is going to be a huge challenge and we will need to make choices around what and how we do things.

The council is currently running a consultation, asking residents to nominate any non-statutory service they think could be cut. These could include keeping parks clean, community safety and CCTV funding, community centers or the Harlequin Cinema & Theatre in Redhill.

Across the border into Tandridge, the provisional grant settlement for 2011/12 is down by just under £500,000, a reduction of 12%. The district council described the cut as “higher than expected”. A spokeswoman said: “When the council also takes into account reduced income from investments, planning and other fees, together with other commitments, the total estimated saving for next year is £1.3m from a net budget of £11.5m.

Spelthorne Borough Council still needs to find another £500,000 of savings, with a 16.5% reduction in its government grant. A spokesman said: “While the council has planned for a cut in its formula grant by making redundancies, and increasing partnership working where there is the potential, it still leaves us with a gap of about £0.5m and further savings will have to be found.”

Runnymede Borough Council said its £1.3m grant cut for 2011/12 made it “one of the worst hit local authorities in Surrey”. In a joint statement, council leader, Cllr John Furey, and chief executive Paul Turrell said: We will be forced into savings of a further £750,000 on top of our current savings plan of £2.5m. “We will now work with staff and councilors to produce a potential list of savings [cuts].

So What’s To Be Done? None of us voted for these measures, and they are in no way fiscally necessary. Whilst local services are about to be devastated, banks which are partly owned by the public are making record profits again. Bankers are receiving record bonuses again, totaling billions of pounds. These bonuses are from the public finances given to the banks last year to shore up a system that doesn’t work. We even have the bizarre situation in which the government is issuing bonds to the banks, who are then charging the government over-the-top interest rates for the bonds that they’ve bought with our money. 

TUC Demo Against The Cuts: Defend the welfare state! The only answer we can give to the government is on the streets. The TUC has called a demonstration against the cuts to public services for the 26th March. This will truly be a historic day, making the Poll-Tax demonstrations of the ’90s and the strikes of ’85-’86 pale in comparison.

It will be the most important date for a decade. It will completely change the face of British society. Without a large turn-out the welfare state will be dismantled and we will have an American type situation in which healthcare, education and services will only be for the wealthy in society- whilst the workers, those who produce the wealth in society, are left to rot.

A large turn-out will rock the very foundations of the government. It will stop it in its tracks. The government will either reverse many of its policies or it will fall. The TUC hasn’t called an all out National Demonstration like this since 1926!- And that ended in a general strike. Many union branches, who have never organised coaches to a demonstration before, are already booking three, four, and up to a half dozen.

It is essential that every able-bodied person makes the effort to be at this historic demonstration. Every single person counts in this historic battle to save the welfare state.

In order to secure your subsidised bus ticket at only £2.00 return, email guildfordagainstfeesandcuts@yahoo.co.uk -OR- visit  http://www.saveourservic.es  Use the paypal donation button to pay £2.00 and write “for bus” in the name field. (Together with your name of course).

Please join the Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/manage/updates.php?id=167151436659040&sent=1&e=0#!/event.php?eid=178381258861986

Together we can bring down this government, but if we all leave it to someone else – well, the consequences are unthinkable

The time and place where the busses will depart from will be confirmed nearer the time. – But the buses are filling up fast, so don’t delay in booking your ticket.

You can find out about local events against the cuts by joining Guildford Against Fees And Cuts Facebook page

Pamphlet on the cuts by the TUC – Read here:
https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/tuc-cuts-pamphlet.pdf

Pamphlet on the cuts by the PCS union – Read here:
https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/4015_nc_pamphlet1.pdf

Pamphlet: Public Spending Myths by Unison – Read here:
https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/public-spending-myths.pdf