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LCC Leader Geoff Driver Mocks Protesters as Cuts Budget Passed

Chris Satori
Hundreds of protesters marched in Preston last Saturday, calling for Lancashire County councillors to vote against the budget.Stunned parents of disabled children wept in desperation today as Lancashire County Council Leader Geoff Driver exchanged jokes and mints with his Chief Executive Officer, while leading his Conservative majority council into a vote to approve a 25% reduction in council spending, predominantly targeted at social care.

Interviewed on the BBC’s North West Tonight, Driver comfortably spun platitudes at suggestions that people might lose their jobs, saying that it was not important and that voluntary redundancy and redeployment schemes would take care of any job shortfall. In fact, as Driver well knows, (or ought to, as his staff certainly do) the take-up of the voluntary redundancy offer has been minimal, and the GMB union has already calculated, from the published proposals, that some 6000 of LCC’s 43,000 employees are at risk of losing their jobs.

More than half of the County Council's employees are women. Staggered increases to the female retirement age (66 by 2020) mean that thousands of women are actually currently getting further away from retirement, as they age, not closer to it. Many employees lost out on promised pensions when the LCC pension scheme with Equitable Life collapsed in the 1990s, and need to save for an old age without elderly care services, not go on the dole. As the job market shrinks before our eyes and politicians toss pensions around like children’s toys, enthusiasm for redundancy is at an all-time low.

Many fear that the coalition government's plans for 'workfare' will mean unemployed people being sent to 'fill in' for cut social care jobs, for nominal pay, without employment benefits, rights or training, or lose the welfare payments they need to survive.

Despite the County's warnings to employees that they will face disciplinary action if they participate in anti-cuts activities, care staff turned up in droves today for the meeting, in support of the thousands of service users they have been assisting and protecting for years, to be told that only 40 members of the public could enter the council chamber, which has public seating for 140. Many parents, disabled children and adults, frail elderly people and council employees were left outside to shiver as the council went about axing their lifelines.

In the meeting, several parents who attempted to ask questions were threatened with arrest and led out. Then the entire gallery was cleared. Then the entire building as one indignant service user set off the fire alarm. But eventually the conservative-led council passed the 25% cuts proposals – that they have in fact already started implementing since back in 2010, when their conservative leaders in government told them that Lancashire faced a particularly heavy burden of cuts, and long before any ‘consultation’ or vote.

Even help with special transport for disabled children to get to school has been cut. Other children’s services have also been hit, with 125 youth leaders posts being axed throughout the region, and all the services they provided. The cuts to services, and increases in charges across the board, are just too extensive to list.

Funding to voluntary agencies has been cut by 50% with many agencies severely affected already. Despite the obvious social stresses that rising unemployment brings, Women’s Aid has lost most of its County Council support, with Blackburn & Darwen WA losing all its funding and the refuge (used by at-risk women from this area) now on the brink of closure. Sign their petition here.

Driver mockingly told the BBC that most of the people who came to protest the meeting were just ‘rentamob’.

That would be the people we employ to care for the most vulnerable in our society, risking disciplinary action out of desperation for people they have been trained over a lifetime to serve and care for.

Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts are organising a free public meeting at Lancaster Town Hall this Wednesday 23 February at 7.30pm to discuss the cuts and possible alternatives. Addressing the meeting will be Bob Crow, leader of the RMT, Chris Bambery, of the Right to Work Campaign, Gina Dowding, of the Green Party, and representatives of local community groups with particular interest. Speeches will be brief and discussion from the floor welcome.

From 11.30 – 12.30pm on the same day, Green MP Caroline Lucas will be staffing the Green Party stall in Market Square to talk with local people about the Lancashire cuts crisis.

A Candle Light Vigil is to be held on Tuesday 1 March at 6pm in Dalton Square as a peaceful and dignified protest against cuts in social care. Local disabled children, adults and frail elderly people will be represented, as will voluntary and charitable groups that help support them. Many people threatened by the cuts to social care are too frail to attend, or to stay long, on their own behalves and all support is warmly invited.