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Thursday 29 January 2015

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'Enough is enough': Another rebel councillor links up with TUSC to fight austerity

Kevin Bennett speaks at the TUSC conference, January 24, photo by Senan

Kevin Bennett speaks at the TUSC conference, January 24, photo by Senan   (Click to enlarge)

Kevin Bennett, Warrington's rebel Labour councillor, has announced he has reached the end of the road in trying to fight austerity as part of the Labour Party. His announcement was carried in the local Warrington Guardian, under the headline, 'Enough is enough' (see http://bit.ly/1K7nqYn )

Kevin was indefinitely suspended by the council Labour group in April 2013 after voting against the council's cuts budget. A 70-strong lobby of trade unionists and community campaigners took place outside the suspension meeting in support of Kevin's courageous stand.

Kevin explained at the time that "the cuts are hitting my ward badly, I'm getting calls and emails from people asking me to help them but I feel my hands are tied.

"I can't influence the Labour administration to even listen to any of the alternatives I've put forward to help support the most vulnerable at this devastating time thanks to an ideologically-driven Tory government.

"Warrington borough council was putting forward £13.9 million of budget cuts and raising council tax, but upping its reserves by millions. My alternative would have been to use part of the reserves rather than increase the council tax, and borrow money to safeguard jobs and services, to give us time to fight back against the government at this time.

"Obviously the meeting was staged, they read out the allegations and on this occasion they actually allowed me to finish what I was saying... My statement made clear my loyal track record in the Labour Party and my trade union Unite, my attempts to constructively raise my concerns about the budget within the due process of Labour Party rules, and how those attempts were, to my dismay, frustrated and blocked.

While suspended from the Labour group, Kevin continued to actively represent the people in his ward, Fairfield and Howley, and to defend their interests. As the 2014 council budget setting meeting approached, he strongly opposed further cuts. In February 2014 he said:

"As I understand it, adult social care will be 'farmed out' to a social enterprise company, which in my view would be a risk as the company is completely untested. There has been no explanation of how this will save money, therefore I can only assume that it will be by cutting wages and staff. I have asked the question 'why can't it be kept in-house'?

"According to the information I've received, Warrington council have already closed three day-care centres, reduced the overall manager numbers by a third, and restructured and reduced the team size for respite services for learning disabilities. The council is also cutting direct payments to adult social care recipients, these cuts don't sound like a lot of money but they will be devastating for the people involved.

"The council has 'dipped' into its reserves this year, which goes to show that reserves can be used to mitigate the cuts. Yet I was made to feel like an outcast for even suggesting such a thing".

All the alternatives that Kevin has tried to put forward within the Labour group were in line with Unite policy.

Kevin rightly takes the view that he was elected to stand up to Tory-Lib Dem cuts; it is the Warrington Labour group councillors who have become more and more involved in passing on such cuts, moving away from the needs and views of the people who elected them.

Kevin intends to continue to work with the Warrington Against the Cuts campaign, and will be representing his ward on the council as a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) councillor.


Letter from councillor Kevin Bennett to the Labour Party chief whip, Warrington council, 26 January 2015

Since speaking to you tonight (Monday 26th January 2015) and following any recommendation of the Warrington Labour Group whips to extend my suspension, I am tendering my resignation from the Labour Group, and I will be standing as a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) councillor.

Having heard nothing from the whips since meeting them on December 12th 2014, I contacted you in early January 2015 to ask what they were going to recommend. They told me that they had a special Labour Group meeting on the 14th January 2015, but my situation would not be raised at that meeting as it was a meeting about the boundary changes and the budget. They said it would probably be raised at the next Group meeting on Thursday 22nd January 2015, I found out that the meeting scheduled for Thursday 22nd January 2015 had been cancelled.

As you know all I ever asked for was the right to speak within the confines of the Labour Group, but this was on many occasions denied to me, and I have been 'dragged' into the whips on numerous occasions for spurious reasons before I was suspended on 4th April 2013.

Enough is enough; I'm not prepared to put up with this any longer.

Following the legitimate 'call in' I made on the decision of the outsourcing of Adult Social Care, I was once again asked to go to a meeting with the whips on 12 December 2014, where I was disciplined for making a comment to the press regarding the lack of democracy within Warrington Borough Council, I have found myself facing a further suspension.

While I've been attacked for opposing cuts and privatisation and proposing the living wage, as a TUSC councillor going forward I will fight for these policies and against the proposed four-year austerity budget, on the basis of my trade union and socialist values not the Tory-lite agenda of New Labour!

Cllr Kevin Bennett