Southampton Labour council votes to close vital respite centre

Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
Anti-cuts protesters in Southampton, photo Paul Mattsson

“Letts must go!” was the call of furious parents as Labour council leader Simon Letts and three Labour councillors shamefully voted to close Kentish Road Respite Centre days before Christmas.

This service provides vital support to families caring for loved ones with life-long special needs. Their campaign has fought heroically for three years to ensure there are facilities for the most vulnerable people in the city. They are right.

How can Labour claim to be an anti-austerity party when its councillors act in such a brutal way? “When you vote Labour in Southampton, you’re not voting for Corbyn, you’re voting for cuts!” was the view of one campaigner.

Others agree. Labour Party members who have actively supported the campaign are horrified at the decision.

They were hopeful that after their recent annual general meeting voted in a new executive committee made up of Corbyn supporters to replace the Blairites, things would change.

With the continued impact of Tory government funding cuts to local councils, the crisis deepens, with schools especially affected.

A dozen schools are in deficit in Southampton, with budgets being made for the year ahead this term.

How many jobs are at risk if Labour doesn’t step in to support ‘licensed deficits’ to stop the cuts? The severe housing crisis has seen homeless people camped out on the high street.

Corbyn’s supporters must seize the opportunity to change course and put an end to council cuts. A powerful campaign can be built by uniting all those hit by austerity.

Standing firmly and clearly in support of a no-cuts budget that protects Kentish Road, school budgets, and agrees a housing policy to open the empty properties to house the homeless would bring together the enormous anger and channel that in a campaign to restore the £100 million stolen by Tory governments since 2010.

But there is a serious warning attached to this crisis. As Labour has carried out Tory cuts, the local Tory group leader has launched a campaign to reopen Kentish Road.

Desperate to support their families, some campaigners have backed his call, despite the fact that just a few miles away Tory councillors in Hampshire are closing two respite centres themselves.

If Labour continues voting for cuts, they will continue losing support and risk a return of the Tories.

Last time that happened, the Tories implemented cuts to services and pay cuts to the entire council workforce, including those at Kentish Road.

Southampton anti-cuts councillor Keith Morrell, who was expelled by the Blairites from the Labour Party in 2012 for voting against cuts, has stood consistently with the Kentish Road families and given his full support to their campaign.

In 2013 Keith proposed a legal, balanced, no-cuts budget to Southampton council showing what is possible by using reserves that currently stand at £110 million.

This policy, advocated by the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition, offers a way forward for Labour councils in averting another round of cuts and mobilising a mass campaign to challenge the Tories.

There are no excuses now for Labour councillors, especially since shadow chancellor John McDonnell pledged £17 billion extra to councils, schools and the NHS.

In the weeks ahead running up to the council budget meeting in February Southampton Socialist Party calls on all those opposed to cuts to demand Kentish Road is reopened and the council puts an end to Tory cuts.

Implementing Corbyn’s manifesto now in Southampton council, and linking up with other councils nationally, would show in practice that change is on its way and add pressure on Theresa May to retreat and fund councils or further deepen their unpopularity in the run up to council elections in May.

Public Meeting – how can we get Corbyn’s policies into Southampton council?

Saturday 17 February at 1pm at Bitterne URC Church, 446 Bitterne Road, Southampton SO18 5EF