Wednesday, 11 May 2011

There is an alternative to the cuts

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to attend and support the first public meeting of the Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance at the Hall for Cornwall. The meeting was addressed by a series of union spokespeople, students and a representative of the “Save Our NHS” campaign.

Speaker after speaker condemned the severity and the regressive nature of the cuts, impacting most severely on the less-well-off. They pledged to campaign to protect vital public services and called on the government to halt various moves towards the privatisation of public sector.

There was considerable anger at the Coalition’s cuts, but alternatives were also promoted. I found that one of the most compelling cases to protect public spending came from the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has produced a pamphlet entitled simply “There is an alternative …”

The pamphlet argues that there should be an economic strategy principally based on public investment, job creation and tax justice.

It argues: “Cutting public sector jobs will increase unemployment. This would mean increased costs for government in benefit payments and lost tax revenue. If people’s incomes are taken away or cut through pay freezes they will spend less. Less consumer spending means cuts in the private sector, and lower VAT revenues.”

The PCU’s alternative is to invest in areas such as affordable housing, public transport and renewable energy, quoting research that demonstrates the “state recoups 92% of the cost of new public sector jobs” through lower benefit costs and increased tax income.

On tax justice, it notes that: “Figures produced for the Tax Justice Network show that £25 billion is lost annually in tax avoidance and a further £70 billion in tax evasion by large companies and wealthy individuals … and an additional £26 billion is going uncollected.”

It backs this up by referring to “leaked Treasury documents in 2006 which estimated the tax gap at between £97 and £150 billion.”

As you would expect, the union also slams the banking sector which “caused the recession and is ultimately responsible for the debts that the UK has amassed.” The PCU proposes a modest Robin Hood tax of 0.05% on global financial transactions carried within the UK which could raise a further £20-30 billion a year.

The PCU further points out that the government still owns over £850 billion in bank assets which, if managed properly, could yield significant annual income to the government.

The privatisation of public services is opposed and the document challenges central government to cut the “real waste,” such as the £1.8 billion spent on private sector consultants each year and the billions continuing to be splurged on Trident nuclear missiles.

I welcome the PCU’s thought-provoking critique of the approach being taken by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government, and I would question why the government refuses to act on its recommendations.

At the present time, the actions of Cameron and Clegg seem more focused on the interests of the bankers and big business (“the few”), and not ordinary people who need good quality public services (“the many”).

This was my article for this week's Cornish Guardian.

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