Southampton (Britain) Labour Councillor takes principled stand against cuts

Labour Councils are being forced to choose between cuts in services or increases in the Council Tax. But the resources are there. Proof of that is the huge amount that has been set aside for the war against Iraq. In Southampton we have the courageous stand of Labour Councillor Perry McMillan who has refused to vote the increase in the Council Tax. Steve Jones explains what has been happening.

Southampton City Council have voted through a budget for this coming financial year which will involve a combination of 130 job cuts alongside a massive hike (18-56%) in council tax bills.

The budget was presented by the ruling Labour group but was only passed on the Tory Mayor's casting vote after Bitterne ward Labour councillor and supporter of Socialist Appeal, Perry McMillan, broke ranks and refused to support the proposals for job cuts.

He is now likely to have the Labour whip withdrawn as a result of his principled stand. The budget was actually pushed through thanks to a squalid deal being concocted between the Labour group and the Tories who agreed to abstain in return for minor concessions.

Southampton City Council is just one of many councils, mainly in the South, to have responded to the government's reduced grant settlements by raising council taxes and cutting services. Rather than making a stand against these cuts, which are being used by the government to pay for tax perks to big business, funding for PFI scams and the coming war with Iraq, they have elected to carry out pseudo-Tory measures to balance the books. Sadly this is one of the reasons why many Labour councils are now facing electoral disaster in the coming May local elections despite the ongoing unpopularity of the Tories. The Southampton Labour group should have refused to cut jobs and services and thrown the ball back into the government’s court, demanding that they make up the shortfall and provide proper funding. If the Tory/Liberal groups wanted cuts then they would have had to have voted them through themselves and face the consequences in May. As things stand in Southampton the Labour group will end up taking the blame for failing to defend the interests of working people.

Southampton councillors walked past a demonstration of local trade unionists and council workers protesting against the cuts in order to vote through the budget. Only Councillor McMillan stayed to speak to them, his stand against the budget gaining loud support from those present. UNISON is already operating a work-to-rule policy and, after calling a one-day strike on the day of the vote, are now set to continue the campaign.

A petition has been launched in support of Cllr McMillan which states: "We the undersigned recognise the courageous stand of Councillor Perry McMillan against redundancies and cuts in Council services and against a massive council tax rise of 19%. We urge Southampton Labour Party and Labour Group to recognise that Councillor McMillan has been a loyal member of the Group and has abided by Party policy and Group decisions. We realise that this was a vote of conscience from someone who has been made redundant many times in the past. Therefore, we further urge that Councillor McMillan is not debarred from fighting his seat in Bitterne Ward for the Labour Party in May."

Those who have signed the petition are in good company as it has already been signed by: Billy Bragg, John McGhee National strike organiser FBU, Andy Frampton Southern Regional Secretary T&GWU, Geoff Martin London Convenor UNISON. It has also been signed by local trades unionists, Labour Party activists and members of the public. Labour movement activists up and down the country should be cheering Perry McMillan's stand against the position of support for cuts in services being taken by many Labour groups at present. Pressure should be put on Southampton Labour group not to take action against Perry but rather to remember why they were elected in the first place and who they are supposed to be serving.

Perry McMillan’s statement at the lobby organized by the unions

Councillor Perry McMillan read a statement from the steps of the Civic Centre detailing his reasons, as follows: "As somebody born and bred in Southampton, I am extremely proud to represent the people of Bitterne Ward as a Labour Councillor. I believe that in my day-to-day work with individuals, community associations, groups and other agencies, I have always acted in the interests of ordinary working people and as such, I cannot vote for the budget as presented by the Labour Group.

I have been made redundant 10 times in my life and it is an awful experience for workers to undergo. The reality is that local authorities are being forced to do the government’s dirty work whilst billions of pounds are being diverted from western economies to be spent on a war that the vast majority of people clearly oppose.

As a socialist I have to stand on the principle that workers’ jobs and interests must be defended by the Labour Party, not attacked in the current manner. I remain fully and utterly committed to the workers and ordinary people who voted for me and intend to continue as a Labour councillor for Bitterne Ward.

This is a vote of conscience and I ask the people of Southampton and Southampton Labour Party to acknowledge and respect that."

Messages of support for Perry’s stand are most welcome and can be emailed to him at: