by Linda Taaffe
David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, pointed out in the Independent: “The latest labour market release last week showed that since June 2010, public sector employment is down by 350,000. Education is down by 94,000, police by 25,000, health and social work by 27,000 and the NHS… by 35,000”.
You would think that those who are directly responsible for this state of affairs, carrying out the diktats of the coalition government, would hang their heads in shame and seek to hide from the public gaze. Not a bit of it. The Daily Telegraph under the headline, “Council chiefs’ five-star dinner for handling cuts”, reported that 1,200 senior council officials “celebrated” their achievements in the Great Room of London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.
It was reported that: “The awards, run by the Local Government Chronicle, were hosted by John Culshaw, the impressionist. He is understood to charge around £10,000 per appearance.”
Furthermore: “After a networking reception, guests dined on a salad of Serrano ham, asparagus, rocket and Parmesan. This was followed by tournedos of beef in a smoked garlic and red wine sauce with pancetta, celeriac…” etc.
In a masterly understatement, the Telegraph reported that those present “had overseen redundancies and cuts to services”. Among them were six staff sent by Sheffield Council, who stayed overnight in London hotels, amassing a bill of £2,825. This council eliminated 870 jobs last year and is intending to cut a further 690 in order “to balance the books”.
Warrington, which unbelievably was nominated “for most improved council after receiving three red flags from the Audit Commission for financial mismanagement and child protection failings, spent £1,700 on tickets and £1,550 on hotel rooms”.
East Lothian council, which was also censored by Audit Scotland five years ago, nevertheless was cited as “most improved council”. The council’s provost travelled to the awards by train from Scotland, staying overnight. The bill came to £3,605.30!
Brent council which did not have far to go, “dipped into its youth services budget to pay for one of its three £270 tickets”.
The most expensive tickets for this event cost £7,200 for a table of ten, which entitled guests to bottles of champagne, followed by port and a cheese board. Afterwards, delegates danced at the disco, and played roulette until 2am at a charity casino set up on the balcony!
Unbelievably, this obscene event was “justified”, according to a spokesman for the Local Government Association on the grounds that “these awards recognise and celebrate the hard work and dedication of those individuals who continue to deliver vital services to communities at a time when budgets are severely stretched”.
In the Alice in Wonderland world inhabited by these butchers of jobs and services, closing libraries, health centres, slashing jobs in social services and introducing a reign of terror in the workplace are “delivering vital services”.
The Telegraph, with it right-wing agenda of discrediting the ‘state’, including local government, which they hope will pave the way for more privatisation, has an interest in publicising events like this.
For us, the working class and the labour movement, corruption of this character – for this is what it is – provides a further example of the rottenness of local government when it is in the hands of capitalist parties, which includes the Labour Party.
It provides further ammunition for raising the necessity for incorruptible representatives of working people to fight the cuts and campaign for control of local councils so that they can be used in the interests of the ordinary people.
Perhaps anti-cuts campaigners could ask questions of their own council:
“Did the Council send a delegation to this obscene junket, and how much was spent on it?”