The following letter was sent to all Council Leaders and Labour Group Secretaries in December 2015:
We are writing to you as Leader of the Party, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Shadow Chancellor. Today the government has announced the local government settlement. In spite of their smoke screens, it is quite clear that once again a huge cut in local government spending is being imposed by the Tories.
We wish to put on record the thanks of the leadership of the Labour Party for the job which you and your councillors are doing; standing up for your communities, doing your level best to put our principles into practice in very difficult circumstances, and being the frontline representatives of our party. We ourselves experienced such a task as local councillors during the Conservative government of the 1980s.
Indeed all the Shadow Communities and Local Government team members have been or indeed are elected councillors. We celebrate the fact that Labour councils up and down the land are still finding innovative ways of making social and economic progress even in the face of a government hell-bent on cutting local government to the bone.
A number of colleagues have requested clarity about Labour Party policy concerning the setting of legal budgets.
The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, said in September, “….the situation councils are now in is if they don’t set a budget, a council officer will do it for them. There is no choice for them anymore.” As you know, councils must set a balanced budget under the Local Government Act 1992. If this does not happen, i.e. if a council fails to set a legal budget, then the council’s Section 151 Officer is required to issue the council with a notice under Section 114 of the 1988 Local Government Act. Councillors are then required to take all the necessary actions in order to bring the budget back into balance.
Failing to do so can lead to complaints against councillors under the Code of Conduct, judicial review of the council and, most significantly, government intervention by the Secretary of State. It would mean either council officers or, worse still, Tory ministers deciding council spending priorities. Their priorities would certainly not meet the needs of the communities which elected us.
Following the debate inside the Party during Labour the leadership election and at our annual conference our Party is now clearly an anti-austerity party.
The government’s austerity cuts are a political choice not an economic necessity. It is critically important therefore in the run up to the local government and mayoral elections in May 2016 that we pin the blame for the cuts in local government services squarely on the government, which is causing them.
That is why we aim to build a national campaign and to work alongside Labour councils to mobilise local campaigns in their areas to expose the devastating impact of this government’s cuts to local council spending. We wish to work with Labour Councils in forging strong alliances with local community campaigners, council staff who are under duress as a result of Tory spending cuts, local citizens and others in defending local services.
No doubt you will already be considering with your Labour Group exactly how best to expose the Conservative government’s destructive fiscal strategy. If you require further information and advice on budget setting and campaigning, please contact the LGA Labour Group on 0207 664 3263.
There is one request we would like to make to you. If there are any cuts or decisions which are imposed upon your council by the Tories which deserve to be highlighted nationally, please let Jon know so that we can hold the government to account. Another area which we would like to hear about is any short term cuts which are being imposed upon you which then cause longer term rises in public expenditure, for example cutting adult social care can lead to increased NHS spending.
We would ask you to keep us informed of the overall impact of the cuts imposed by the Conservative government in your area, including the knock on impact on the NHS and to identify critical areas of urgent need so that we can keep raising these issues in and out of Parliament.
We look forward to hearing from you and working with you in the months to come. In the meantime please accept our best wishes for the Festive Season and please convey our best wishes and season’s greetings to all your Labour colleagues.
With best wishes,
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party
Jon Trickett MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Communities
and Local Government
John McDonnell MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
[If you would like to print this message, a PDF copy of this letter is available here]