On Wednesday 7 July, the cabinet at Thurrock Council will be discussing a report on their financial situation. Thurrock Nub News have been doing some more digging into the implications of this report: ‘Brutal’ council cuts would see one in four jobs at the authority axed over next two years – plus huge sell-off of assets and increased charges for residents.
Thurrock Council’s questionable ‘borrow to invest’ strategy was supposed to protest the authority’s finances – they still have a £34.3 million budget shortfall. So, as well as the closure and disposal of the Thameside complex and other buildings and plots of land, they’re also looking to cut 500 jobs over the next two years. That’s one in four jobs in the borough’s workforce. That goes a long way beyond getting rid of a few seriously overpaid executives and well into the workers who actually deliver on our services.
Despite the increasingly desperate attempt of the council’s finance portfolio holder, Cllr. Shane Hebb, to put a positive spin on the situation, we’re looking at cuts to services plus increased parking charges and fees for services such as the collection of garden waste. The council have already proposed scrapping Meals on Wheels and closing day centres used by the elderly. So, despite Thurrock Council upping the council tax by the maximum they could get away with, it looks as though we’ll be getting a lot less for what we’re paying in the years to come.
Obviously, the Labour opposition group on the council are objecting to the proposed cuts. It’s likely that there will be some kind of pushback from the unions as well. Should Thurrock Council even contemplate flogging off chunks of parkland to developers as neighbouring Basildon Council have done in the past, then it’s fairly certain they’ll face stiff opposition from the residents. There are going to be a lot of battles to come – the important thing is to not get bogged down in the minutiae and lose sight of the bigger picture.
The question all of this should be prompting is what is the purpose of Thurrock Council and whose interests do they really serve? That applies to every local authority up and down the land. There’s a growing feeling that many councils do not serve their residents well and increasingly, are seen as not fit for purpose. Maybe this is the point where we, the residents, step up to the plate and start taking some degree of control back from the council.
Mutual aid schemes to fill the increasing gaps left by shrinking council services will be a must. There are plenty of examples of how this can be done – this is one we know of that started off on just one estate in Kentish Town in London: Cooperation Town. In Stanford-le-Hope over the last decade, we’ve seen what can happen when residents take on the running of their local park: Passionate about Hardie Park. Even though what Thurrock Council are proposing is brutal, there are ways this crisis can be turned around in a way that will empower residents to have more direct control over what happens in their communities – let’s do it!