There's a debate to be had about whether Council budgets must be balanced at all costs - I don't think they should (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/100234). However, that debate isn't live in Labour Groups at the moment - where decisions to balance budgets have been made by large majorities.
Regular readers Sid and Doris Cipfa will recollect my publishing here the official statistics showing the distribution between the 32 London Boroughs of the total of £480 Million in unallocated reserves held across all the boroughs as at 31 March 2010. (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2011/01/messages-to-councillors-about-cuts.html).
Last Friday, Lambeth UNISON wrote to Lambeth's Labour Group to ask for a dialogue about the (apparently relatively high) level of unallocated reserves held in the borough. (http://lambethunison.blogspot.com/2011/01/lambeths-budget-for-201112-unisons.html).
This is in line with national UNISON guidance for negotiators on local government finance, which is well worth a look (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/19091.pdf).
The Council administration gave us a prompt response, available elsewhere online thanks to an enthusiastic blogger. (http://grayee.blogspot.com/2011/01/council-budgets-and-unallocated.html).
The branch has replied - pointing out that a persuasive explanation for the principle of holding some unallocated reserves does not amount to a compelling justification for any particular level of reserves. (http://lambethunison.blogspot.com/2011/01/budget-reductions-and-unallocated.html).
This sort of debate isn't the most important question surrounding the coming tidal wave of spending cuts, closures and job losses. Wiping out all reserves would not prevent all of the coming cuts, and would in any case only provide one year's respite, since a particular sum of money can only be spent once.
The main problem we face is that a Tory Coalition government wishes to do great damage to public services.
However, in the face of unprecedented "front-loaded" reductions in financial support to the neediest local authorities, trade unionists do need to scrutinise our employers' budgets.
One year's respite, for some services facing closure or massive cuts, may be very valuable - and union members will expect us to explore every avenue to save jobs and services before we conclude that we need to take industrial action.
Now, for the forthcoming lobbies, who can suggest somethong to chant which will rhyme with "unallocated reserves"?
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