Traffic wardens, refuse workers and other low paid workers in Southampton have gone strike in response to a particularly savage attack on pay. The council plans to cut pay by 4.5-5.5 per cent this year- effectively cutting workers’ incomes by a tenth, once inflation is taken into account. Workers pay will then be “frozen” for a further 3 years – with inflation likely to wipe another ten per cent off their incomes – a fairly shocking drop in living standards even in the current climate. And now the council has threatened to sack any workers who fail to sign up to the new regime by July 11.
Council leader Royston Smith has told the BBC there is no alternative: “If there was another way of saving £25m this year other than losing 400 more jobs, we would have taken it.” Yet his deputy leader, Jeremy Moulton isn’t telling quite the same story. Over on his blog he has been boasting again and again about Southamptons low Council tax rates. In spite of the recession, he writes, this year “Southampton council tax will be frozen for the first time ever”. Again, given inflation, this effectively amounts to a tax cut.
So while those living in Southampton’s most salubrious properties will experience the biggest decrease in council tax payments, the people picking up their rubbish will carry the can. It is hardly breaking news that Conservatives dislike taxes, dislike public sector workers, and are none too keen on the low paid. Yet it is rather pathetic that council leader Royston Smith lacks the gumption to justify the blatantly political decisions that have lead to this turn of events, and has chosen, ever so unoriginally, to hide behind the language of no alternatives.
Let us hope that the councils striking workers can force him to think again.
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