Blackpool cuts watch group stands down, but worries over austerity remain

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A Blackpool protest group which has campaigned against central government cuts since 2010 has decided to stand down, saying “austerity” could be over.

Blackpool Against the Cuts, born from left-wing and trades union concerns over job losses and vital social services cuts under coalition and Conservative government austerity, has said that since all parties in the recent General Election had committed to end cut-backs, the group would end its monthly meetings.

Austerity was brought in to deal with the catastrophic effects of the global financial crash of 2008 and the then huge national debt which had come out of the previous ten years of cheap credit.

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As a result, local authorities across the nation had grants slashed, forcing them to shed thousands of jobs and services.

The Blackpool Against the Cuts Group has been stood downThe Blackpool Against the Cuts Group has been stood down
The Blackpool Against the Cuts Group has been stood down

Blackpool Council has seen funding cuts of 36 per cent since 2010, meaning it is £153m a year worse off.

At the same time, its bill for vulnerable children’s services is rising and in December it reported an expected overspend of £8m on that alone.

The group has organised public conferences with speakers, lobbied the council and other meetings, protested at various venues, organised petitions, and has produced leaflets about austerity and the cuts over the years.

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Ken Cridland, chairman of BAC, said: “All the major political parties in the recent general election, including the winning party (and new Government) had promised to end austerity.

Blackpool Against the Cuts meetingBlackpool Against the Cuts meeting
Blackpool Against the Cuts meeting

“The last BAC meeting unanimously agreed that we should now suspend all BAC activities in the light of Government promises, and also in light of the trust put in the new Government and Prime Minister by the majority of voters in the area.”

BAC vice chairman, Mick Stott said: “We have done this in the hope that, after 10 hard years, austerity is finally coming to an end. We are delighted if this happens because, not only have too many people suffered real hardship, austerity has not worked to help the economy move forward.

"The only real outcome as far as we can see is that the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer, and more privatisation of public services has gone on. Ending austerity is therefore good news if it is finally happening.”

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Hazel Qureshi, a long time BAC supporter said: “I do hope that austerity is finally coming to an end. However, the recent news that the Chancellor Sajid Javid has ordered all Cabinet ministers to draw up savings to their budgets of up to five per cent makes you wonder if the promises made during the election are going to be honoured.”

Coun Simon Blackburn at a protest against job cuts due to Central Government austerity in 2010Coun Simon Blackburn at a protest against job cuts due to Central Government austerity in 2010
Coun Simon Blackburn at a protest against job cuts due to Central Government austerity in 2010

Blackpool South’s new Conservative MP Scott Benton said that, thanks to strong management of the national purse strings, there was now scope to “increase expenditure on vital public services, including our National Health Service and schools”.

He said: “I recognise that since the financial crisis difficult decisions have been made in order to reduce the deficit and national debt. Due to the fiscal measures undertaken by successive governments since over the past decade, it has been possible to increase overall spending and investment in our public services, while cutting taxes for families and businesses and getting debt falling. In 2010, under the last Labour government, the UK had its highest budget deficit in our country’s peacetime history.

“The Government has announced that Blackpool Council will see a 6.4 per cent increase in funding this year and our schools will receive a 5.91 per cent funding boost.

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"Due to the hard work of the British people in paying off Labour’s debts over the last decade, we can now boost investment in all of our public services and I will ensure that Blackpool gets more than its fair share of funding for our local services.”

Blackpool South MP Scott BentonBlackpool South MP Scott Benton
Blackpool South MP Scott Benton

His Tory Colleague in Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Paul Maynard, agreed and said: “Thanks to a strong economy and responsible Government and now we have got Brexit done we are focus on investment across the UK, boosting school funding, putting billions into our NHS and taking steps to level up opportunities, benefiting communities like Blackpool North and Cleveleys.”

While hopes may be rising in some quarters that the Boris Johnson government may deliver on its pre-election promises to ease hardship and invest in the north, not everyone is convinced the effects of the cuts are over and the group has said it will return if needed.

Tracy Hopkins from Blackpool’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) said it had seen ordinary people’s debt levels rise during austerity – to the point that more and more people were relying on food banks while struggling to heat their homes and there was no sign of any easing.

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She said “People can’t afford the very basic things we all take for granted. And not having enough money has knock-on effects on lots of other social issues.”

Blackpool Council’s leader, Labour councillor Simon Blackburn said that after years of seeing its grants slashed to save the nation money there was no sign of any change. In September he warned that the council would have to spedn the last of its reserves and make further drastic cuts.

Today he said: “Blackpool Council is having to find savings of more than £19m this year. Indicative spending allocations show that under the so-called ‘fair funding formula’ a further £6mcould be taken off Blackpool next year. Austerity is far from over, sadly.”

Ken Cridland, chairman of BAC added: “If the Government does not keep to its promise to end austerity, and the trust local people have put in them is broken, we will be back. If we are forced to relaunch BAC, we will not do so quietly!”