The Labour Council’s proposed cuts have provoked rage across Cardiff. Russell Goodway’s £23 million package of across-the-board cuts are an outrageous scatter-gun assault on the city’s character, its public sphere, its collective spirit, its physical and mental well-being, its weakest and most vulnerable people and indeed its very fabric. They must be stopped.
Let us first remind ourselves that the Council’s budget is reduced because the ConDem coalition in London cut the already inadequate block grant to Wales by £2 billion. Wales, having less financial autonomy than a local branch of the Rotary Club, lacking an Exchequer, tax-raising powers, borrowing capability or, for that matter, a current account and a cashpoint card, could only sit back and take it. The Assembly government in Cardiff has now duly passed on proportionate reductions in funding down to Wales’ 22 local authorities. So the reason Cardiff is contemplating cuts at all is because the UK’s basket-case economy got itself into trillions of pounds of debt bailing out the rate-rigging, market-fixing, tax-fiddling, casino banks of the City of London – the spivvy, pyramid-selling racket, awash with the proceeds of global crime, that underpins the entire edifice of the British State.
Wales hasn’t overspent, Wales has no debt, Wales bears no responsibility for the UK fiasco. Nor does Cardiff, which actually holds £60 million in contingency reserves and has just enjoyed a 15 year boom not experienced since the coal era. Given that we are always told by London that austerity policies are a necessary evil, a temporary medicine to heal Broken Britain that will be over just as soon as “the deficit” is cleared, and most definitely not a permanent feature, then the last things Cardiff Council should cut are strategic, structural, intrinsic services that, once gone, cannot be restored. If there must be cuts then they should only be in those areas which would not be missed, would not harm the city and which could be readily reintroduced when a sunny economic climate returns – you know, stuff like tiers of management (nine new posts plus restructuring costing £1.6 million a year), the new ‘Corporate Initiative’ department (cost £0.7 million a year), top managerial salaries (up £1.1 million in the last year), yacht races in the Bay (£1.5 million promised for a one-off event in 2017), luxurious new HQ buildings (Mr Goodway is considering a new palace on Callaghan Square even though perfectly ok County Hall down the Bay is only 26 years old), and vainglorious, expansionist Local Development Plans and straining for “city region” status.
But, even within the terms and conditions set by the ConDems, there is actually no need for any cuts whatsoever in Cardiff. Other Welsh local authorities are taking the alternative option: raising Council Tax. However Labour are sticking to their pledge to freeze Council Tax made at last year’s Council election. It’s the sort of pledge routinely made by Tories in English shire counties or wealthy London boroughs for whom the very idea of taxation, smacking as it does of public purpose and slight redistributive tendencies, is anathema. It’s not the sort of pledge that should come from an urban, Welsh, Labour authority – and it’s certainly not a pledge that should, most unusually for a political promise, be honoured. For the sake of an average 40p per week for each Council Tax payer in Cardiff all the proposed cuts could be avoided. That’s a packet of Rizlas I would gladly forfeit each week.
Of course there was a time when Labour Councils regularly rebelled against central government and defied London to protect the communities they were elected to represent. Those days are long gone. Today’s Labour Party is to the right of the Harold Macmillan (1894-1986) Tory Party of the 1950s/60s, having been castrated while under Neil Kinnock’s watch and then handed over to the financial, corporate, military and media elites by Blair. Russell Goodway was Blairite before Blair and has not been known to utter a single remark that could be construed as remotely “socialist”. He is a mainstream right-of-centre ideology-free British politician. When he dismissed opposition to his cuts this week because it was “political”, as if the elected politician were not that precise thing himself, it was a textbook example of arrogance. He added that next week’s decisive Council meeting was just “theatre” and “would change nothing” because Labour councillors have decided already behind closed doors – thus informing Cardiffians, again with that arrogance, that any ‘consultation process’ was a charade.
When the previous Labour Council was chucked out of office in 2004 there seemed no way back to power in Cardiff for Mr Goodway. During his nine years running the city he became the highest-paid local authority leader in the UK while the Council squandered public funds with overclaimed allowances and legal bills. Meanwhile, the process which turned Cardiff into the debased place we see today was kick-started: competing with Yorkshire villages and Berkshire stately homes for the TV tourist market; Mexican beach resorts and English seaside towns for the stag’n’hen market; ring-road warehouses and out-of-town retail parks for the shopping market; and Rocky Mountain canyons and Center Parcs holiday camps for the watersports market. Let’s call this Doctor-Whonomics, an opportunist, short-term, gimmicky, whoring economy predicated on corporate profiteering on behalf of the hotel, leisure and fast food industries and entirely unsustainable by it’s very nature. Try to imagine another European capital selling itself in this way: no, nor can I.
By sitting tight in his Ely safe seat, and thanks to an alarming lack of talent and competition among Labour’s remaining rump in Cardiff, Mr Goodway was in prime position to reassert control when the LibDems were turfed out in 2012. (Note to Mr R Berman: I am so sorry Rodney for all the rude things I’ve written about you. I look back with nostalgia at your not-too-bad eight years in charge of Cardiff. Aah…those were the days…summer of 2011…I remember it like it was yesterday…the Lib/Plaid coalition…sane, congruent, civilised, progressive…aah…those were the days…)
He will get his way next week; few if any of the 45 Labour councillors having the backbone to even abstain. There will be some predictable scaling back of the headlined worst excesses to make it look as if they’re listening and to coax the gullible into thinking it’s not too bad after all – the usual cynical attempt to massage opinion, in other words. Thousands of workers will face losing their jobs. It will be up to them, along with the people of Cardiff, to resist, organise and defeat these plans:
•Flatholm The idea that it is acceptable to sell off chunks of Cardiff into private hands is not new, most of the city centre is the monitored fiefdom of London property developers after all, but to sell an island, a nature reserve and an SSSI to boot, is in another league. The southernmost tip of Wales has been part of Cardiff since the boundaries of the medieval borough were first drawn. Cardiffians face being excluded permanently from Ynys Echni after 700 years. No doubt some speculating billionaire will find a use for it as an exclusive hideaway or perhaps it could be the base for one of the Peter Hain Barrage’s supporting struts.
•Splott Pool Cardiff’s oldest surviving swimming pool, opened as an outdoor lido in 1922, is to be eradicated and replaced by a ‘leisure hub’ at some unspecified future date. This will involve pulling down the STAR centre (built as long ago as 1981) and flogging that land for housing. To take away Splott’s pool, one of the precious few amenities in a beleaguered part of Cardiff, and thus by implication propose the concreting over of much of Splott Park, Splott’s only substantial green space, is bad enough – but when one adds Labour’s decision the previous week to allow Viridor’s waste incinerator to operate in the middle of Splott, generating heavy lorry traffic while rewarding throwaway consumerism, this looks like persecution.
•Hayes Island toilets To close these 1898, Grade 2 listed underground toilets, beautifully renovated at a cost of £150,000 just three years ago, would be an act of pointless vandalism. With the original Victorian fittings intact, the toilets are counted among the best-preserved in the UK and are a tourist attraction in their own right. For the sake of saving £90,000 a year (note: Council Chief Executive John House earns £180,000 a year plus expenses), Cardiff city centre will be left with just one public toilet inside the St Davids centre. The toilets face a future as some dismal themed bar. Idea: it could be called ‘Shithole’.
•Libraries 11 libraries are to open five days a week instead of six; a philistine change that is clearly the thin end of the wedge. Once this process gets underway the nibbling away of Cardiff’s library service, one of the genuine jewels in the city’s crown, will gather momentum. There’s no profit in free libraries, you see, and Labour nowadays only seem to assign value to what makes money.
•Riding School To save an irrelevant £22,000, the School in Pontcanna Fields specialising in providing riding for disabled people is to be sold off or closed. The 50 horses probably destined for a pack of economy ‘beef’ burgers. Those 30 delightful Pontcanna acres? You can guess. The outpouring of anger when this was announced was instant. There was a spunky demo outside County Hall and media coverage, so Goodway immediately back-tracked with airy reassurances. We shall see.
•Music services The vital Music Development Fund, used by 3,000 pupils a year, is to go and music services charges will be hiked by 10%. A soft option cut which will be unnoticed by most people, to save peanuts; anti-culture, anti-creativity, anti-youth, and cordoning off music as an activity for the privileged only.
•Welsh language There is an anti-Wales, British Nationalist element in the ‘Welsh’ Labour party. This element opposed devolution in the 1997 referendum and, when that argument was lost, blocked the use of vacant City Hall by the infant Assembly, and for years refused to allow St David’s Day events and marches in the capital, while of course making Cardiff permanently available for everybody else’s bread’n’circuses and ‘capital’ of everything-but-Wales. This attitude is not only reactionary; it’s mad – since Cardiff without Wales, the single feature that distinguishes it from every other British provincial city, wouldn’t have an economy, much less an identity. I was waiting for an attack on the Welsh language in Cardiff, another easy target, and now it’s begun: the end of Calennig and funding for Tafwyl festival.
•Respite care What could be meaner and crueller than hurting disabled children? Overnight stays to give respite to parents already suffering the ConDem’s benefit cuts are to be abolished, as well as grants to a medley of voluntary organisations in the field.
•Transport As out-of-date and out-of-touch as ever, this Council are fans of a Car Economy – to hell with the 30% of Cardiffians who don’t have one. By ending bus route subsidies many long-standing, essential bus services will cease and by turning Cathays Park into a car park more car use, congestion and pollution is encouraged. Well, after all, these are the people whose Cardiff Bay masterplan produced a pedestrian-hostile racetrack of dual carriageways and roundabouts that actually severed rather than enabled communication.
•Community Plasnewydd Community Hall, tick. Leisure centres after 6pm on Sundays, tick. St Mellons Enterprise Centre, tick. Jasmine Enterprise Centre, tick. Hafod Care, tick. Cardiff Womens Aid, tick. South Riverside Centre, tick. Bowling greens, tick. And they’re only warming up: Mr Goodway says budgets will be even tougher in future and anything “discretionary” will be cut by 90%.