Joe Anderson: The Cuts Break My Heart
Faced with cuts to its budget of over 50%, Liverpool's called in its friends in the north (and Bristol) to a one-off summit this week. It's aim is clear: to make the coalition think again. David Lloyd speaks to Joe Anderson.
Five years ago, the world came to our city to celebrate our cultural renaissance. This Friday, Liverpool plays host to an unprecedented gathering of politicians, faith leaders and community champions. They come from England’s eight core cities – Manchester, Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle among them; and they come with a single purpose.
Together, our core cities represent 16 million of us, and generate almost a third of the country’s wealth (which, incidentally, is more than London generates). And, this week, they come to Liverpool to demand changes to the Government’s unfair distribution of local authority funding cuts.
SevenStreets says it’s up to us to all add our voices to the event – even if you can’t make it to the convention, you can sign a petition here. This feature isn’t about party politics. SevenStreets has no allegiance to any party. It’s about the survival of our city.
In four years of coalition government, Liverpool will see cuts of 52%. Huge, rapid, painful cuts that will affect every one of us, and put into question the very viability of local government. It will see the north once again losing out to the south.
Swimming pools, homeless shelters, libraries, care homes, culture. Don’t bank on any of them surviving, unscathed, over the next few years.
As Newcastle Council succinctly put it, when they analysed the cuts and plotted them on a map: “The similarity between the map of party political control and the map of relative cuts is remarkable…”
By 2014-15, the year before the next general election, Newcastle calculated that all but two of the top 25 “losers”, in terms of per capita council spending cuts per person, are Labour-controlled. Of the 25 “winners,” 24 are Tory-controlled.
It’s against this backdrop, and following a series of demonstrations in the city (such as the one staged by Public Sector Alliance and Merseyside Trades Union Council, pic above) that this week’s summit takes place.
As a crew from BBC’s Politics Show wraps up in the corner of his Dale Street office, SevenStreets settles in for a chat, following an invitation from Mayor Anderson. He looks tired, and offers his hand. He has the softest handshake we’ve ever felt. We imagine how disarming this must have felt for Cameron, when the two met last week and diplomatically danced around each other. It must have reminded him of the Queen’s, we thought.
She’s another one you’d be unwise to mess with.
SS: Tell us about how you currently receive funding from central Government.
JA: Eighty percent of our funding comes from central government. Well, it comes from us, from our taxes. But if Government takes it away, we have to deal with it. And, for us, the cuts are so severe, and so disproportionate, that it can only affect the poorest. They’re the ones who’ll suffer.
Anderson’s talking about the Osborne’s preferred option, and current course – to levy cutbacks on Liverpool 300% greater than the national average (and a full 12,500% higher than the amount taken from the coffers of North Dorset’s council – Tory controlled, of course – which is just £2 a head worse off). A move Osborne says is ‘fair to all.’
SS: How will the proposed cuts manifest themselves in our city?
JA: To every person in the city it’s a £252 reduction, when the average in the country is just £62. Milton Keynes has just £38 worth of cuts.
SS: But doesn’t Liverpool get more in terms of grants?
JA: Yes, but that’s because we have more elderly, more unemployed, more children in care here. And we have to care for these people. That’s what any caring society should do. The cuts simply don’t take into account Liverpool’s social economic background. How is it fair that if, in a league table, Liverpool is the number one deprived city in the country (a fact even Newcastle Council agrees with) we’re also the worst affected in terms of the cuts?
SS: You must have seen the cuts coming down the track when the coalition came to power?
JA: We knew when we lost the school building programme, and the housing market renewal programme, that we were facing tough times ahead. Together they amounted to a loss of £350 million. I’ve tried to protect people as much as I could, by promoting economic growth and inward investment. But the Government cuts are something we can’t control. We have to look at the services we provide.
SS: And if we don’t? If we press the Hatton button, what happens then?
JA: If we continue and made no changes at all, in effect ran a deficit budget, in two years time we’d only have enough to pay for adult social care. Not street cleansing. Libraries. Anything.
SS: Of course, Cameron says that we all have to shoulder the deficit reduction equally, and that this is the fairest course of action.
JA: I’m not a deficit denier. I accept that it needs to be tackled. But as long as it’s fair. I don’t believe Cameron’s figures and I’ve asked him to bring someone up and interrogate ours. We’re not telling lies. I’m not cutting things to make some political point. I’d be mad to do that.
SS: What does it mean to you, personally, to oversee such swingeing cuts on our city’s services?
JA: It breaks my heart. I’m not a socialist who came into power to take away services. I came into this to make peoples’ lives better.
SS: So what’s your answer? How do we get out of this economic black hole?
JA: For a start, I believe we can do more to target those who are earning more; those at the very top end. I think we can call a halt to much of the spending in central Government. When I took over we made massive savings. We had a funding cut of £141m, and we lost 1600 staff. We had to manage our way though. That’s what leadership’s about.
SS: Is this Friday’s event a rallying call, or a serious attempt to derail the Government’s planned cuts?
JA: Faced with a Government that simply wasn’t listening, in one of my regular meetings with the Bishop of Liverpool (The Right Revd James Jones) we decided to invite faith leaders, community groups, unions and businesses to our city, to get the message to Downing Street that the cuts are unfair. And he was happy to lend his support.
SS: And what can we expect from the event?
JA: It’s an unprecedented chance for all eight cities to formulate a joint response and report, and to present our case. And it’s a chance for religious leaders to have a clearer understanding. The Government may think we’re lying, so maybe they’ll listen to them.
SS: What about us? Are we doing all we can?
JA: It frustrates me when, on business trips abroad, I try to show people what’s happening in the city, and all I see on the Echo’s website is splashes about guns, knives, crime and violence. Those stories damage us exactly when we need to be changing perceptions. And they don’t reflect the Liverpool I know, or the city that’s seeing £1.5 billion inward investment this year. We have a job to do, and we all need to pull together.
There’ s a petition I’d urge everyone to sign. We’re asking for a debate in parliament – because there has been none – about the funding formula used to distribute the funding. I want to get that looked at, to find a fairer way of distributing the spending cuts.
SS: And what of your much reported ‘riots’ comment?
JA: The civil unrest comment was taken out of context. It was part of a two page open letter to the Prime Minister. I was simply saying that if you continue to behave in a way that creates inequality and division, then it will create a rebellion. That may be in the form of more demonstration, occupy Liverpool, or any civil disobedience. That’s what happens. People will stand up.
SS: Do you think the public have grasped the severity of the situation we’re facing?
JA: No, I don’t think they have. Even though we’ve had cuts, things are going to get worse. This year we’re looking at £32 million of cuts. Next year over £40 million. And there is no waste. The next cuts will really hurt. Pepole need to wake up. Getting involved is one way. And we’ve other big things planned for this summer, big demonstrations…
SS: Do you see your job as something of a poisoned chalice?
JA: In a way, yes. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s causing endless sleepless nights, anxiety and stress. But I still have a smile on my face. I know that Liverpool is in a great place. It’s how we steer ourselves through the difficult next few years that matters.
Combat The Cuts
12 noon, 17th January