East of the M60’s verdict on the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition’s first month in power.
What can I say? Never before has anything deemed to have been stated as being in the public interest ever benefited so few. The phrase ‘public interest’ seems to have been distorted by the neoliberal politics of the Conservatives and the Orange Book Lib Dems. In most cases, we are seeing Thatcherism 2.0 in progress rather than the new politics hyped by the media.
The current administration in the UK has promised to ‘cut the cost of government’. Some sections the populace may perceive to be councillors’ allowances, and claims about the public sector being a better relation than private sector wage earners.
The latter claim is so far away from the truth to a point where I wouldn’t even travel that distance to go on my holidays. At the lower end of the pay scale, public sector employees have seen their pay fall further behind their private sector counterparts for the last 30 years. Rates capping, Compulsory Competitive Tender, privatisation and state sponsored derisory wage rises have conspired to create these disparities.
A perfectly good schools building programme is being kyboshed in favour of Gove’s Free Schools, which would exacerbate these issues further. Instead of state funded schools, the programme would see parents and (eventually) companies running or taking over schools. In some sources, this is claimed to be more costly than Labour’s programme. Public interest? Whose public interest may I ask? Does allowing the Free Schools owners to set their own pay, conditions and denying staff trade union representation work in the public interest?
As stated elsewhere, the cuts will have a disproportionate effect on the North of England. Without public sector investment (world class public transport systems and education, faster broadband, and a skilled workforce), how on earth would the private sector wish to bend over backwards to relocate their offices from Cambridge to Castleton? University cuts would undermine the knowledge based economy required in today’s workforce. Who buys the posh coffees to keep the baristas in work? The computer geek with a university degree or two with a sizeable disposable income.
Increasing VAT (as proposed in the forthcoming budget) to 20% would have a negative effect on us all. The coffee shop will close if the Linux Consultant is made redundant. The train he or she catches will be emptier and face service cuts (or worse line closures). Manufacturers would be hit even harder, retail premises will be emptier for longer and become more difficult to let. With a VAT increase, everybody loses: further expense is incurred by store chains to update their computer systems. Then there’s the issue of trying to break the bad news without turning your customers away.
The Northern Perspective
The last month of the ConDemNation has seen the North of England among the biggest losers in the first swathe of cutbacks proposed by the coalition government. These include:
- Uncertainty surrounding the future of the Phase 3B Metrolink works;
- Plans to re-roof Manchester Victoria station being put on ice;
- The cancellation of Sunday and Bank Holiday evening buses by Network Warrington;
- 500 job losses at Bolton Council;
- £30 million Central Government grant support eliminated from the Greater Manchester area.
These were among the cuts announced before the emergency budget. Most of which has affected the area East of the M60 motorway. Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside will lose out the most. As well as Central Government Grant Support, the worst case scenario of Phase 3B of the Metrolink being incomplete would have profound effects on these district’s economies. If (worst of all) the Oldham – Rochdale Loop Section was unfinished, there is every chance thatConDemNation may suspend the works indefinitely and turn it into a bus lane, denying Failsworth, Oldham and Shaw of a rail based transport alternative.
Contractually, it is less possible. If Manchester Withington MP Jon Leech’s statement is anything to go by, it should escape the cuts. Or there could be less stations on the Loop Line. Work is already in progress for the section up to Droylsden, but the Ashton section from Droylsden is probably more uncertain, likewise Chorlton to Manchester Airport.
Important to the travel choices of the three boroughs mentioned earlier is the condition of Manchester Victoria station. Prior to the Windsor Link, it was of almost equal status to Manchester Piccadilly as an Inter-City station. Nowadays, it is a suburban station with a leaky roof and a closed Metrolink platform. The biggest chunk of Labour’s £50 million plan to refurbish the worst UK railway stations was allocated to Manchester Victoria (£30 million). Now that Labour’s plan has been put on hold, it will retain its reputation as Manchester’s Station From Hell.
Manchester Victoria station’s terminal roof has not been fixed since 1996, the year of the IRA bomb explosion at the Arndale Centre. As the first port of call from the northern side of Manchester, it is nothing short of a national disgrace to neglect a station which has seen greater footfall from MEN Arena, PrintWorks and Manchester Arndale bound passengers. Imagine if the same treatment happened to Charing Cross or [London] Victoria stations?
Imagine also the outcry if London was to see their Sunday and Bank Holiday evening bus services withdrawn? From the end of June, Warrington will have this unwanted reputation as their local ConDemNation will cease to allot tenders for buses during these hours. So, the persons who have survived the last Tory Government and two World Wars in Stockton Heath will be deprived of their right to go to Leigh after 1800 hours free of charge. ConDemNation at National Level have said that the free passes would be protected, but how much use would they be if nobody can get home after 6pm? This is also inconsistent with policies combating unemployment.
On the bus from Leigh into Bolton, we see the local council laying off 500 staff over a 5 year period. This is before we mention the £4 million deficit in which the council is facing from the central government.
Back to Rochdale aboard the 471, we see Greater Manchester’s most deprived borough at the sharp end of the cuts. Deemed ‘stable’ according to the review, Rochdale seems to have missed out on Manchester’s boom as a leading city. It has seen lost retail trade due to continued development of neighbouring Bury. The proposed cutbacks will see every Rochdale citizen lose £14.06 per head from local government support grants. Meanwhile on the other side of the M60, another council will see half of Rochdale’s figure lost per head. Stockport citizens stand to lose £6.06 per head.
Whereas Stockport is ruled by one part of the ConDemNation, neighbouring Trafford is ruled by the biggest part of the coalition. It too has also got off lightly; the average Altrincham, Sale and Stretford resident would lose £7.08 per head – again half of Rochdale’s shortfall. Far from letting the poorer boroughs off lightly, the axe is swinging towards the poorest areas, at odds with the new politics.
Hall of Shame: cuts made to boroughs East of the M60 motorway by the ConDemNation Administration, 2010:
- Rochdale (No overall control): £2.9 million* (£14.06 per head);
- Oldham (No overall control): £2.9 million* (£13.20 per head);
- Tameside (Labour): £2.3 million (£10.73 per head);
- Stockport (Liberal Democrats): £1.7 million (£6.06 per head);
- Trafford (Conservative): £1.5 million (£7.08 per head).
* Estimated figures.
At this time of writing, what we have seen here could well be the tip of the iceberg. With a £500,ooo cut allocated to Greater Manchester’s transport budget, we could well see a repeat of Warrington in some parts of the GMITA area. So far, Tory controlled High Peak is considering a reduction in the subsidy of the 239 route from Ashton to Glossop, halving the service to 5 return journeys per day. Whether GMITA comes to the rescue remains to be seen. How many other councils may be forced to announce job losses? Will we have to sell part of the family silver to fund Manchester Victoria’s new roof?
In my honest opinion, I hope that Greater Manchester stands defiant against the Clean Shaven Cuts Coalition (thank you Keith Flett for that line). It has got to, in order to highlight the strategic importance that the Greater Manchester area has for the whole of the United Kingdom, not only the North of England. Greater Manchester, (thanks to the government of the day) have recognised the importance of working between private and public sectors, but the puzzle isn’t yet complete. Improved public transport is the annoying missing piece of the 1,500 piece jigsaw which looks the same as most of the skyline or grassy knoll. It is one which must be found immediately rather than swallowed up by the vacuum cleaner.
Almost 40 days on I am still unimpressed. In fact I am fuming at where and when the cuts are targeted. The cuts seem to be ideological, disproportionately targeted towards Labour strongholds, the North of England – where more rather than less public spending – is required to keep up with London and the South East of England.
The best approach for the North of England is to fight in whatever way against the cuts. Support progressive councillors and MPs against the sanctions, post comments on blogs, create blogs, and most of all, nil carborundum. We have known ourselves that the public interest is being distorted. We have survived 18 years of Thatcherism and Major, the worst excesses of reverse wealth redistribution policies, high unemployment.
I am one of them, and am still here to tell the tale. If we let them carry on, then Britain has set her System Restore point on Windows XP to November 1980 or August 1981 by default.
S.V., 14 June 2010.