Cuts to education, zero hour contracts and the loss of over 900 dockyard jobs; these were just three of the issues about which local leaders from the big three parties showed themselves to be in complete consensus during a debate organised by The News. Representing the 14 community candidates, TUSC spokesman Ben Norman proved to be the only voice on the panel offering any alternative to austerity.
Over the last three years Portsmouth City Council has cut over £46m from public services, with cuts exceeding £12.4m to come after the election. As the two largest parties in the city, both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives vote through these cuts, accompanied by the inevitable ‘difficult decisions’ sound-bite for the media.
Rather than discussing the impact of this austerity offensive, Lib Dem Council Leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Labour Councillor John Ferret and Donna Jones, leader of the Conservative Party council group, all chose to focus the discussion on personality politics. In contrast TUSC reiterated its opposition to all cuts and presented a clear fighting strategy based on the Militant Liverpool City Council of the 1980’s.
“The national archive now reveals that the Conservative government had a policy of ‘managed decline’ for Liverpool and we see echoes of this in Portsmouth today, with 900 jobs axed at the dockyard and the token appointment of a Portsmouth Minister,” said Ben.
TUSC call for the Council to use its reserves, estimated to stand at over £14 million in March 2014, along with profits from the Council-owned assets of the international ferry terminal. This will halt the cuts while the Council works with unions and community groups to draft a Needs Budget that invests in job creation and vital services.
“Such a fighting strategy won Liverpool City council over £60m from the Thatcher government. This was invested on 5,000 new houses, seven sports centres, new parks and six new nursery classes. 1,200 redundancies were cancelled while 1,000 new jobs were created,” said Ben. “If it worked on Merseyside then, there’s no reason why it won’t work in Portsmouth now.”
On the topic of education, John Ferret declared himself ‘agnostic’ on the issue of academies, while Donna Jones thought it wise to channel Nicola Murray, the hapless minster from the BBC’s The Thick of It, by calling for ‘disadvantaged people’ to be ‘aspired into education’. She failed to explain how aspiration alone can replace the cut Education Maintenance Allowance or pay rising tuition fees.
TUSC highlighted cuts to school education grants. Currently each school in the city is entitled to such a grant, yet amalgamations, such as the merger of Moorings Way, Meon Infants and Meon Juniors in Milton ward, mean that three schools now have to survive on the funding of one. TUSC also reiterated total support for NUT and NASUWT members fighting against Michael Gove’s reforms.
Labour’s John Ferret did not wait long before discussing his party’s current fixation, The Pyramid Center. The swimming and sports complex has been subsidized by the Council since it was saved from closure in 2008, but Labour demands its demolition, estimated to cost a further £1 million.
Ben explained how The Pyramids can be turned into a community asset as part of a Needs Budget strategy.
“This is another example of the managed decline of our city. Why can it not be used by local schools? How many newly amalgamated schools lack swimming pools and sporting facilities?” Ben asked. “This shows that a Council without vision, a Council without the will to fight, is a Council prepared to let community assets decay.”
“The truth is working people didn’t cause this economic crisis and yet we are all paying for it through cuts to jobs and vital public services,” said Ben. “Our message to voters is that the rich have four parties fighting for them, we need a party for working people. “The TUSC is another step towards that goal. There is an alternative to austerity, and building it starts with you.”
Watch and share the TUSC Portsmouth election broadcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBAFjyt7j6M