It has been estimated that over 100,000 jobs will be lost in local government if the government’s cuts strategy is implemented. That figure is likely to double, treble or more. Behind the strategy of politicians – local and national – to take chainsaws to public services, a more sinister politic is being promoted by Cameron and his Big Society, marketed as “localism” and “devolution”.
Models are being promoted around Britain: super-merged councils; total outsourced councils; mutualism; shared services; total place; total space; total budgets; the buzzwords change weekly. It’s all about how much of the estimated £650 billion in local government can be outsourced, privatised and turned into profit for private companies.
From Barnet in North London to Selby in North Yorkshire the drive is to outsource everything and everybody. From Cumbria to Suffolk they create a “partnership” of all bodies providing public services from police to universities, from social services to education, from employment/
unemployment to libraries, from health to waste disposal, pool the money and outsource. In the 32 boroughs of London, both Labour and Tory councils look to merge services and managerial structures. Will the 32 boroughs become 5, 6 or 7 super boroughs? Despite union efforts to establish clear red water between the councils of differing alleged political hue, it is difficult to see much other than the same one game in town played by politicians of all parties.
Under both Labour and Tories the merger of councils occurred and is occurring, accompanied by a systematic reduction in the number of councillors – by over 4,000 under Labour. Ken Livingstone, along with coalition Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and London Mayor Boris Johnson – all back the same process. The strategy that runs through what appears as a contradictory position is that localism and devolution centralise the core interests of the state in Westminster as any semblance of accountability fades.
Simultaneously it promotes localism – do what you want in your backyard so long as it is not a threat to privatised government and the centralised power, the core interests. That threat to Westminster diminishes further if the resulting fragmentation, parochialism and inward-looking myopia blinds the working class to a national perspective. All socially progressive models of collectivity developed over the past 150 years – civil society, housing, education, public health, local services, transport, etc – are removed from the control of local interests and put in the hands of a tiny number of multinationals.
What is paraded as localism, engagement, improved service delivery, social cohesion and community actually becomes powerlessness as the ability to plan on a city or regional scale is removed. It becomes a process of disengagement, disaffiliation, ghettoisation and ever growing failure in the most elementary democratic processes, increasing as real power is concentrated in the capitalist state and unfettered big business.
Cameron talks of changing British society forever. If successful, this planned destruction of the quality of life in local communities, of control of planning and improvement within the social democratic concept of capitalism, will turn back the clock hundreds of years. As with the resistance of students and academics in recent weeks he has to be made to founder and be driven from office by the resistance of millions of workers.