Southampton Councillors have finalised their budget for 2012/13, making £14 million worth of cuts, freezing council tax and axing 200 jobs across various departments including health and social care, in line with the coalition government’s austerity measures.
The decision coincided with the release of the latest UK employment figures, where the unemployment rate was revealed to be at a 16 year high at 8.4%. The official number of people out of work currently stands at 2.67 million. It has been suggested that the number could actually be as high as 11 million if economically inactive, temporary workers and part time workers seeking full time employment were considered.
Prior to the council’s 2pm meeting, the Civic Centre saw demonstrations outside from a number of activists from unions and socialist groups. Most prevalent were Unite the Union and TUSC (Trade Union and Socialists Coalition). Also among the demonstrators were the recently formed Southampton branch of ‘Youths Fight For Jobs’, who have ties with the University’s Socialist Students society through member Andrew Howe. The previous week they had been promoting the demonstration through leafleting at locations across Southampton, including at both universities and Tauton’s college.
Representatives from the protesting organisations presented a seven minute deputation to the councillors, calling for investments to be made as opposed to cuts. These included funding job schemes for young people, providing affordable housing and a replacement for EMA. Their proposals were greeted with disinterest and were then swiftly ignored for the remainder of the meeting.
Conservative leader of the council Royston Smith was keen to stress that the cuts would ensure “fairness even in tough times” and that there was “no money” available, amid calls of “rubbish” from union members watching from the gallery. Among the cuts made include day care for the disabled, prompting the opposition to state that the most vulnerable members of society would be the worst hit.
“The outcome was pretty much as expected,” said TUSC representative Nick Chaffey. “Even so, it was better that we were there to present alternatives to austerity rather than there being no alternative ideas suggested at all”.