Corinna Edwards-Colledge, Brighton and Hove City Council employee, and local novelist, has written an open letter to David Cameron, over "dangerous" cuts to the council's funding.
Here it is in full:
Dear David Cameron,
I am writing to you to ask you to stop cutting local authority funding before it is too late and irreparable damage is done to this country.
I’ve come to the point of writing to you directly as I recently had a very sad and upsetting realisation. I’m a council worker of 13 years and what I have come to realise is that my government has complete contempt for the jobs that I, and my colleagues do.
Why this should be the case baffles me. We’re not greedy bankers lining our pockets with outrageous bonuses, we’re not the CEOs of massive tax-evading corporations, we’re not dodgy MPs who have defrauded the public through fiddling our expenses.
In fact, we are just ordinary hardworking people who come to work every day to benefit the lives of people in our community. I can feel my government’s contempt for the work I do through the eight years of pay freezes and ever more severe budget cuts.
I feel it through the language that you use about us in the media, and the fact that you want to see local, dedicated expertise replaced by distant, corporate contractors. To be quite honest Mr Cameron, I’ve had enough and it’s time to speak out, both for myself, and for the hundreds of thousands of other local authority workers in our country.
There is nothing left to cut from local government. Any “spare flesh” went years ago, and you are now cutting deep into the bone. Every single council and Public Health leader in this country has written to you to outline some of the terrible consequences of seeing these cuts through; but you seem hell-bent on ignoring them.
I was at an internal training day recently, and there were colleagues there who were on the verge of tears because they were so stressed and exhausted from months of trying to deliver good public services on ever dwindling staff and resources.
You’ve been talking a lot recently about the need for employers to start sharing the wealth from our supposedly growing economy by increasing the wages they pay. It astounds me that you do this without a hint of irony or any admission of hypocrisy, when you have frozen our pay for the last four years and want to tie us to a 1% increase for the next four too.
Apparently workers in the private sector deserve a pay rise, and indeed MPs apparently deserve a 10% rise too. Can you explain why I don’t deserve one then? I can only think it is because you have contempt for me.
And when I, and my colleagues quite rightly get so angry and unhappy about this unfairness that we are prepared to give up a day’s pay to make you hear our voices; you then move to attack our fundamental right to strike.
Again, it is different rules for you and different ones for us – you can get elected on only 24% of the votes of the eligible electorate and run a whole country – yet a union has to get 40% just to allow its workers to decide to fight back by not attending work for one day.
And if you are so keen for unions to get a mandate from more of their members, why not let people vote online? I’m about £3,000 a year worse off because of your cuts and freezes to my wages and I’m one of the lucky ones!
All we’ve had to do to make sure we can keep a roof over our kids’ heads as a result of your attack on my earnings, is have lodgers; there are others who are missing meals because of it. Huge numbers of council workers are trying to exist on below the living wage, and even those at the very top earn considerably less than their equivalents in the private sector.
And that’s before we even start to look at the cost of housing for these low-paid public sector workers. Again, I’m one of the lucky ones, I’m a home owner. But our kids will never be able to inherit their family home because we’ll never be able to pay off the mortgage. They won’t even be able to escape the ridiculous unaffordable rents in my city by living with us for a bit when they’re older, because we will have had to downsize.
The first house I bought was four times my salary, the one I’m in now is eighteen times my salary. I have absolutely no idea how my kids are ever going to be able to afford to live in the city they were born and raised in and which they love. But I see that these kinds of worries are not ones that you are qualified to understand, because you, like over half of your cabinet, had a privileged upbringing with a private education and/or a degree from Oxbridge, when only 7.5% of the general electorate has had the same level of privilege.
And out of 5,800 schools in this country, two of the people in your cabinet went to the same one – Eton. I was never very good at maths in school but I imagine the odds on that happening are very low. Or maybe it’s not about odds at all, maybe it’s because the kind of upbringing you and half your cabinet have had, oils your progress towards power and success.
I wonder how many people of equal talent and intelligence never get a chance at your kind of power because they haven’t shared your privilege. So of course, I can hardly blame you for not really having any idea what day-to-day life is like for millions of ordinary people in your country at the moment, for whom each day is a challenge in how to make ends meet, and look after themselves and their families.
And local councils are the safety net for these millions of people and you are cutting them twice. You are creating a country where there is more homelessness and poverty and insecurity and therefore creating more vulnerable and disenfranchised people; and then on top of that you are cutting the funds that councils need to support this ever-growing group.
My council provides 800 services to local people. Without my council the libraries and museums would shut, so would the schools and the nursing homes and children’s centres. The parks and local countryside would become unusable and unsafe, people with disabilities and mental health problems would lose all their support services, the bins would remain unemptied and the roads would crumble.
I am part of this huge, amazing team of talented, caring and dedicated people and I am PROUD to be. I know that you want to further centralise power by privatising councils by the back door; and I know in my bones that the people who are best placed to provide these services are local experts who work for the good of others in a non-profit making democratically elected organisation.
This has already been demonstrated in London, where most councils are taking their Housing Benefit services back in-house, and the amount contracting out to private companies has halved in the last three years. And you go on about “hard choices”, that we’re “‘all in it together”. But we aren’t “all in it together” are we Mr Cameron? You will happily place a tax on the poorest people who may happen to have a spare room in their house, but won’t do the same for the richest through a mansion tax.
You will cut benefits to the most vulnerable yet continue to help the richest businesses in our country by providing billions of pounds every year in tax breaks and subsidies, even though the majority of these companies are paying no corporation tax at all.
You could cap private rents and make more affordable housing available but you prefer to continue to see the majority of the Housing Benefit bill go into the pockets of well-off private landlords.
You could even wipe out the deficit tomorrow by not renewing Trident. Your government seems determined to attack everything that I love about my country: free education, free healthcare, a society which is fair, open and just.
And the worst thing is; as all those Local Authority and Public Health leaders have said in their letters to you; these cuts will cost so much more than they have saved as time moves on. You are not saving money, you are creating a time-bomb of expense for my children’s generation as the consequences of the removal of these services takes hold.
You see Mr Cameron, your contempt for me and my colleagues in local authorities is not just unfair and hurtful, it is also dangerous and costly.
Please reconsider your cuts to local authority budgets before it is too late.
Corinna Edwards-Colledge, Brighton
To sign the petition visit https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-government-cuts-to-local-authority-budgets
Contact Ms Edwards-Colledge at email@example.com, or use the Twitter hastag #stopcuttingcouncils