December 6, 2011

Bill Esterson


The financial crisis was caused by the behaviour of the banks, including the practice of lending to millions of people around the world who could never repay the loans. It is clear that the motivation for this absurd and very damaging practice was the obscene rewards on offer through bonuses which were paid at the time and have continued to be paid. Those bonuses were paid on the basis of the short term results achieved, ie the sale of financial products. The fact that the products sold very quickly turned into bad debts did not prevent the payment of bonuses. Therefore, we saw and quite possibly continue to see short term gains for many at the top of the financial sector with no consideration of the long term.

It is therefore outrageous that hardworking dedicated people in both public and private sectors, who are not responsible for the economic downturn, are having to pay the price for mistakes made by a relative few in the banking industry. The government has chosen to tackle deficit reduction by targeting those on low and middle incomes first and foremost and not those who caused the crisis in the first place. Why for example is almost £12 billion is coming out of children’s benefits over the course of this Parliament; that is £1.5 billion more than is coming off our nation’s bankers. You have to ask what kind of Government take more off children than they take off bankers?

The staff under attack  include nurses, teaching assistants, cleaners and dinner ladies. Some of the lowest paid workers in the country. The Tories are attacking pensions and also cutting the pay of 800,000 of these staff, mostly part time, through the tax credit system. Also included are police officers and other emergency service staff, with a 3% tax on pensions. That tax will leave these staff worse off today and with less to spend, hardly a sensible way to help support business as it will cut consumer confidence by cutting the ability of those in the public sector to spend.

The Hutton Report into pensions clearly states that the cost of public sector pensions going forward will reduce. The fact is, increased contributions are going straight into the pot to pay off the deficit not to help with the affordability of pensions.

And the chancellor’s Autumn statement was yet another attack on teachers, nurses, border control staff and all those who contribute to our well being and safety. We should not be penalising low and middle income public sector workers by cutting their pensions. The government plan is a tax on the pensions of those on low and middle incomes to pay for a financial crisis caused by some of those on the highest incomes.

This is not an argument between the public and private sector. We should be making sure that private sector pensions are improved not cutting the pensions of those in the public sector. There should be a fair deal for all workers across the board.

Our economy has come to a standstill. Mr Cameron’s answer has been to demonised dinner ladies, cleaners and nurses. Plan A has failed and the costs of this are being put onto the shoulders of our public sector workers. We need to return the economy to growth, get Britain back to work and take a fair approach to tackling the deficit not target those who can least afford to pay.

The cuts to front line police are sharper here on Merseyside than in many areas.  In the coming years there will be fewer police on our streets keeping us safe. One change being made is the closure of many of our police station front desks including at Formby and Crosby. The front desks are a victim of the cuts made by the Tory-Lib Dem government and it might have been helpful to hear Tory and Lib Dem councillors in Sefton pressing their government to reverse the cuts. Instead, we heard the local representatives of the coalition government saying that volunteers should run the police stations. 

The police tell me that this is unworkable, it would need full time police to manage the volunteers and it would need volunteers to commit to working a regular rota, not to mention the months of training needed. Of course, we have many excellent police volunteers, special constables, but they are needed for front line duties. More are being recruited but special constables also need time for training. The reality is that the cuts to the police are a cut too far and will hit front line police hard, with all the risk to public safety which will follow. I am sure that the police will continue to do a fantastic job but there will not be as many of them so they will not be able to do as much. 
The closure of the police stations to the public is a real sign of what the government is doing to our communities. Police in the leafy Tory shires are not facing the same level of cuts. Where is the fairness in that?

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