It's 10:30am yesterday and Salford Council has announced its £42million cuts. Every councillor in Salford had advance information and notice of the cuts. But they are all deadly quiet. Where are the verbal fireworks from the Lib Dems and Tories? Why aren't the trade unions screaming blue murder?*
Hundreds of jobs are being lost and those who are least well off in Salford are bearing the brunt of the cuts. And no-one's saying anything. Where's the voice of opposition?
It's not coming from the Lib Dems and Tories – it's their Coalition Government that has imposed the need to slash public spending. It's not coming from the Labour Party – because it's the ruling party in Salford that has decided where to cut. It's not coming from anywhere.
Even Salford Council Leader, John Merry, is perplexed at the lack of opposition to the cuts from Salford's political parties…
"I agree that it is quite difficult for them to oppose it" he says "But, of course, what a number of Lib Dem council leaders did was to write to The Times saying these cuts were going too far, and basically called on the Government to think again. I was disappointed that our Lib Dem leader couldn't actually find that line. He's obviously more interested in propping up his government than he is in supporting the people of Salford."
Does John Merry find it worrying that there's no opposition, no proper accountability, no-one challenging the decimation of the public sector in Salford? It seems a strange question to ask the guy who's the figurehead of the cuts…
"It would be nice to have an effective opposition but I can't be held responsible for the failure of the opposition parties in Salford" he half smiles "If they were a bit more independent of what their government was doing then they could be a better opposition…
"What they are saying is that these cuts are unnecessary, that we're going too far and that they could make the cuts without damaging front line services" he offers "but as they haven't come up with a single constructive idea as to how that happens, pardon me if I'm a little sceptical about that particular viewpoint. No doubt they'll come forward with their alternative budget in due course but they've not seen fit to share it with us yet."
It's almost like a one party state – ConDems in power making the cuts centrally, a paralysed Labour Party having to impose them locally – and just a few independent councillors on the sidelines crying `Foul!' It's a strange, surreal situation…
"I'd like to think that we're speaking up on behalf of the community but I understand that you might not think the Labour Party should be the sole representative of the community…"
"If there are people who wish to express concern we will no doubt listen sympathetically to them…"
But don't expect any political councillors in Salford to represent you? Weird.
Even more weird is the whole notion of a Big Society that David Cameron was championing the day before huge cuts to the voluntary sector in Salford were announced. John Merry agrees that it's a bad joke.
"The Big Society is a joke, in that I'm all in favour of people volunteering and participating, but what I'm not in favour of is the Government somehow withdrawing funds that make it easier to achieve that" he responds "I think that we're just demonstrating that the voluntary sector needs the public sector and visa versa"
The Salford Council cuts have hit the voluntary sector really hard…Eight organisations running 16 projects in the city are getting across the board cuts of 15%; 76 non-council posts in the voluntary sector are at risk due to £700,000 cuts in the children's and young people's sector; and there is a 53% cut of £261,000 covering Area Based Grant Funded Services which will hit `voluntary and community sector schemes…for example, sports development and community work'.
Yet, shocking as this is, Salford Council is intending to try and transfer ownership of Fit City Cadishead and Fit City Broughton Recreation Centre to `voluntary sector sports organisations' to stop them closing. Where are they supposed to get the money from? All the voluntary sector organisations are getting their funding cut.
"I'm not happy about it" says John Merry "but these are all grants we've had withdrawn from Central Government. We don't think they should be doing it but we can't absorb all these grants."
Expect Broughton and Cadishead Fit Cities to close. Meanwhile, unpaid labour is being brought in to `help' run Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Ordsall Hall and The Lowry. Another contradiction?
"No" says our Council Leader "It's supporting staff who work there…"
Suppose that's why it says in the £901,000 cuts explanation for Salford Community Leisure … "Salford Museum and Art Gallery – Reduce the number of staff delivering services within the gallery through making better use of volunteers from Friends of Salford Museum and Art Gallery and Ordsall Hall."
The political ethics in Salford are confused to say the least. And behind the deafening silence and contradictions is a community without a voice and without representation.
• Salford Against The Cuts will be holding a demonstration against the cuts on March 2nd at noon at the Civic Centre in Swinton outside the Salford City Council meeting.
• When East Salford Community Committee agreed to support the campaign, John Merry was one of those who voted in favour. Expect him to join the demonstration against Salford Council cuts. Weird huh?
This article has been ammended as we acknowledge that the reason the trade unions remained silent yesterday was because they had no prior knowledge that Salford Council was making an announcement about the cuts. A full statement from Salford's trade unions UNISON, GMB and UNITE can be read here.
Read John Merry on the cuts Part 1 here
Full details on all the Salford Council cuts here
Graphic by Jamie Reid
Words: Stephen Kingston