Around 30 people attended a hustings organised by Headingley Network on Tuesday 1st May at the HEART Centre for a debate between the Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates in the upcoming local elections.
Whilst most of the debate concentrated on local issues such as bin collections and nuisance noise and other environmental concerns, there was one point especially where the chasm between TUSC and the other parties opened up. This was when the candidates were asked how they would deal with the huge cuts to the council’s budget. Whereas the mainstream parties all took the cuts as happening for granted, with the Green candidate talking about ‘mitigating’ the impact of the cuts and the Labour candidate declaring “there’s no money in the city… we’ve got to be realistic”.
Instead, Iain Dalton, the TUSC candidate explained the need to fight against the imposition of cuts and demand the funding needed in the city to provide decent quality services for all. Instead of the Labour/Green cuts of £90m this year and Labour’s £55m this year, he advocated building a mass campaign involving council workers, trade unions and service users to demand the funding required commenting on the missed opportunity that a fighting council could have used to start this when Eric Pickles visited Leeds a few months ago.
The paucity of ideas amongst other parties on how to stop this onslaught was evident. A Labour councillor in the audience explained later on how he felt that “no other administration could have done any different.” The Green candidate gave the example of hiking up council tax to partially offset some cuts but, as Iain pointed out, with no pay rises and soaring energy and transport costs how can people afford to pay more council tax?
Despite instructions for no cheering of candidates, Iain recieved a round of applause when he pointed out the disgraceful state that the council has allowed the former Royal Park School to degenerate into and called for the council to make it possible to bring the building back into use as quickly as possible, transferring the running of it to the Royal Park Community Consortium if necessary. Iain also explained how he supported the Friends of Kirkgate Market pledges in defence of the selling off of the market and the need to put funds into refurbishments as well as cuts to the exorbitant rents.
Fundamentally as Iain stressed on several occasions, the council needs to have the resources available to it to provide services like bin collections etc. From the hustings it was clear that none of the other parties had a strategy on these questions, instead merely swallowing the Tory cuts and repeating their line that there isn’t an alternative.