Balancing the Budget and Developing a Positive Political Programme
Discussion paper prepared by Richard Leese – 29th January 1990
In December the City Labour Party considered the City Council’s budget position after the Poll Tax and has already taken policy decisions on the inevitability of huge cuts in Council expenditure. The crucial task now is to ensure that the Labour Group makes decisions about the budget that lead to long-term stability, avoids the mistakes made previously and continues to reflect the political priorities of the Party. What follows are some of the issues that need to be addressed.
The Labour Council 1984 – 89.
Some good points:
- Development of active policies for Equal Opportunities, in particular the code of practice on recruitment and selection, alongside employment monitoring and equality targets.
- Growth of services in key areas eg provision for under-fives.
- Effective linking with service users in response to government legislation.
Some bad points:
- Capital-led growth which, for example, led to neighbourhood offices, not neighbourhood services.
- Lack of clear and coherent political strategy, leading to councillors losing themselves in petty detail and bureaucracy.
- No significant opening out from the [Labour] Group or Party to involve the wider community in decision-making.
Socialist Councillors implementing Tory legislation?
What happens if Labour councillors opt out from the decision-making process by resigning from the administration – by resigning all together, or by adopting oppositional positions?
In 1987, the management structure of the Council was hardly touched. If councillors abdicate their responsibilities, it will leave senior management to run the Council. Should we accept decisions being made in ways that have been handed down from the 50s and 60s? Will the workforce accept it?
Resigning positions might be beneficial for councillors, but will have no effect on the government and will not be accepted or understood by people in Manchester. The Council can continue to mitigate the worst effects of government legislation by pursuing the Party’s political objectives, but only if Labour councillors stay in power and control the bureaucracy.
Looking at the budget
Some areas of the Council are inefficient, ineffective and wasteful, whilst others are woefully lacking in resources. The Council has said it is looking at cuts and restructuring based on political priorities. At present, leading councillors are locked away in secret session to come up with a master plan for managing the budget over the next two years. How do we make sure we avoid yet another across-the-board cuts exercise disguised as radical change? If everything is decided by the end of February, what scope is there for debate, discussion or the generation of ideas in order to develop a strategy?
It is essential to describe priorities in general terms – economic regeneration, equal opportunities, quality of life, de-centralisation etc. It is often more difficult to apply general principles to the vast range of council services. The early 80s road to municipal socialism dictated that everything should be the function of the local authority. Now, pressures ranging from care in the community to enforced tendering, require us to question that assumption, and, whether it is schools, refuse collection, care for the elderly, maintenance of pavements etc, we must put the quality of the service first.
For most people in Manchester, provision of basic services for people is their main concern. We have yet to convince them that it is a concern shared by politicians and political activists, and any political programme needs to address directly the concerns of the people. At the same time, we must maintain priorities that challenge the status quo and promote change. Neighbourhood services; the need for a Lesbian centre; relating local needs to national (eg health) and international (eg peace) should continue to be part of our programme, but put within the context of other parts, and planned alongside other parts [of the programme].
Far from smashing the bureaucracy, the Labour Group has enhanced it with its own ‘unit’ mania and chaotic collection of committees and sub-committees. The Group, and even more so the Party, should withdraw from the detail and concentrate on policy, targets and monitoring.
This text is taken straight from the document written by Kath. This Appendix relates to chapter 13. I have an ill ease about this appendix, because it was an internal document and was written by one person, Richard Leese. However, I have left it in, because I feel it is not saying anything confidential and it does succinctly summarise the thinking and issues, which is worth putting on record.