Shortly after the Chancellor presented his budget, Labour Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, presented Liverpool’s budget. Students from the University of Liverpool were invited to observe the budget proceedings in their full glory.
As soon as we arrived at Liverpool Town Hall, we were greeted by a wave of protesters in opposition to the impending announcement of cuts. Protesters held placards of enlarged novel covers, depicting the loss of books if any libraries were to close. Protesters were drawn from anti-austerity groups such as Momentum, and TUSC. The chanting of “Tory! Tory! Tory!” as Councillors entered through the side entrance, and the calls to set illegal-budgets are reminiscence from Liverpool’s Militant tendency.
The Mayor began by breaking the convention of a long, dull, drawn-out budget speech by opting to present the budget through a PowerPoint presentation. Throughout the speech, Anderson chose to attack Liberal Democrats for supporting the Conservatives in government, and leaving “a mess” for Labour to pick up. In a fine balancing act, Mayor Anderson laid out plans to reduce overspending, increase investment, and negate the harshness of austerity imposed by central government.
The Council had tough decisions to make, with over £90 million being identified in potential cuts. Liverpool has seen a 67% reduction in funding since 2010, with the prospect of losing all funding from central government by 2020. Despite the savagery of austerity, the Council commits to spending £2 million on the most vulnerable, and continues to spend £12 million a year on tackling homelessness. To address the shortfall in spending, the Mayor outlined plans to increase Council Tax to 4.99%.
It was clear to any observer that Labour controls the affairs of the city, with Labour holding 80 of the 90 seats in the chamber. This domination led to the drowning out of voices opposed to the proposals, including the Liverpool Echo which was described as “disgraceful” by Anderson for supposedly ignoring Liverpool’s financial difficulties and “attacking” the local authority over the issue of homelessness.
There is much criticism of the Mayor’s approach to managing the city’s finances, from those who oppose many of the Mayor’s innovative capital investments, and from those who see Labour’s refusal to set illegal budgets as a betrayal. Liverpool faces no easy choice in the age of austerity. The city must take advantage of devolution, and set out a vision which encourages internationalism and positions Liverpool as a beacon of prosperity. If the city refuses to find innovate methods of investment, or refuses in its duty to protect the vulnerable from the takeover of Whitehall officials, which would occur if the council sets out an illegal budget, the city faces decline not seen since that presided over by Thatcher.
Images and Words: James Christopher Maxwell, second year politics student.