It was asked on Question Time last night, why does the referendum this weekend in Greece matter to British people?
The answer to this is that it matters to us because the fundamental principles of democracy are at stake. Unelected and unaccountable individuals at institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank are trying to impose austerity measures on a country against the will of its democratically elected government that will exacerbate the poverty and misery suffered by its people.
In North Hertfordshire we are not strangers to either austerity or assaults upon democracy.
Here are some of the ways in which austerity has impacted upon North Herts over the past 5 years:
Police station help desk closed in Hitchin
Waste disposal units closed leaving those remaining under great pressure and people unable to dispose of waste
Funding for Home Start cut which means that those families in need of help and support will no longer be able to access it
Grants to Housing Associations to be cut, making it more difficult to for them to provide affordable housing to the 1,500 people currently on the housing register and to provide the social to tenants in need of support.
Cuts to Welfare contributing to an increase in homelessness meaning that the local Council are increasingly having to use Bed and Breakfast accommodation to discharge their duty to house people as there are not enough temporary accommodation units
Difficulties in accessing health services with local hospitals asking people to stay away over Christmas and many people unable to get a GP appointment within 48 hours
Cuts to funding for the advice services such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, leaving many struggling to access the advice they need to prevent debt, family, employment and many other issues spiralling out of control.
In order to counter the impact of austerity, the Labour group moved that all Council employees and employees of companies carrying out Council functions must be paid the Living Wage. The Tories rejected this, stating that companies would not pay and the council could not afford to pay extra to the contractors. The Council is responsible for providing essential services and the companies that provide them make vast profits. This puts the Council in a powerful position. If a company refuses to pay its employees a wage that they can live on, then another company will. Yet in this case the Council effectively cowered at the feet of big industry, telling us that we cannot challenge the needs of big business. Council policy decided by Veolia, not that anyone actually bothered to ask Veolia if they would be willing to pay the living wage.
As part of the 1996 Local Plan, property developers given planning permission for a development of 20 units or over must provide 25% affordable housing. Developers routinely claim that the development would not be viable if they are forced to provide affordable housing, as they would not make sufficient profit. The Tory dominated Planning Committee routinely grants planning permission, without proper scrutiny of the viability assessments, leaving developers free to make their profits whilst the affordable housing needs of the district continue to go unmet.
These are just two examples of how the Council has failed to stand up to private interests in order to ensure the needs of constituents are met, whilst austerity continues to have a devastating impact upon many.
In North Hertfordshire we have had enough of austerity. The People’s Assembly Against Austerity has been formed in order to campaign against austerity. This is a group not affiliated to any political party that is united in its opposition to cuts to essential public services whilst millionaires get tax cuts and industrial scale tax avoidance is ignored.
We will be meeting in Hitchin Town Centre at 2pm on Sunday 12 July to demonstrate against austerity. We are all affected by austerity, and we invite everyone to join us for a friendly protest.
Cllr. Adrian Smith
(Hitchin Bearton Ward)