In advance of the big March for the Alternative on Saturday, Camden, Haringey and Islington Green Parties held a public meeting in Archway, to encourage discussion of economic alternatives to the damaging Tory/Lib Dem cuts to essential public services.
Speakers and audience contributors agreed that it was essential the many anti-cuts groups battling to save individual services understood that there was a major structural problem in the British economy that needed to be dealt with, rather than feeling that they had to fight against others for shrinking public funding.
Natalie Bennett, chair of Camden Green Party, said that Britain was a wealthy country, which had lots of people living in poverty and poor public infrastructure. That situation had arisen through a failure to tax the wealthy and large corporations.
She said: “Throughout the Thatcher years taxation as a percentage of GDP was greater than 40%, but in 2009 that was 36%. ‘Corporate social responsibility’ shouldn’t be about staff having a fun day out painting a local community centre, but companies accepting the need to pay the tax they fairly owe. We can’t continue to see, for example, Barclays bank paying 1% tax in the UK on profits of more than £11 billion.”
Sue Hessel from Haringey Federation of Residents' Associations spoke about the NHS as “our biggest miracle”, saying it provided “the psychological magic of people feeling cared for”. She said that while public sector provision of services such as residential care homes might be marginally more expensive than private, this was due to better pay and conditions for staff and consequent greater stability for residents, something that was vital for the vulnerable.
She noted how before 2000 it had been assumed that NHS services would be provided by the public sector, but the new health bill allowed for “any willing provider”, which might soon only mean the private sector. “I worry 2011 will be seen as a watershed year,” she said. “We need to stop the train leaving the station.”
Lydia Prieg of the New Economics Foundation outlined the many faults in our current banking system. She described London’s banking regulation as looser than that of the US and said attempts to deal with the “too big to fail” problem were regarded by many commentators as inadequate. She added: “Large banks are effectively getting a subsidy when borrowing on the market. All the participants understand they can’t default, so they get cheaper rates and smaller institutions can’t compete.”
Arianna Tassinari, incoming co-chair of the SOAS students’ association, said British students were facing the most expensive fees in Europe. “As a society do we value education as a public good?”
Camden Green Party Councillor Maya de Souza, said councils could make savings, for instance marginally reducing all workers hours could save jobs and services, avoiding large redundancy costs and the misery of unemployment for many.
With the March for the Alternative tomorrow, we have a chance to show the government and communities across the country that the cuts are not inevitable and there needs to be another way. If you want to save your library you need to recognise that you are part of a wider movement towards a different society in which the better-off will make a fair contribution.