Break the Law or break the poor?

Privateers will soon be running our public services

Privateers will soon be running all our public services

I’m trying to get my head around how Liverpool City Councillors can refuse to break the law and break the law at the same time. This is a sort of cognitive dissonance, where two opposing positions can be held; when cuts can be voted for by people who opposed them.

Joe Anderson has stated that, after 2017, the council will have no money left for discretionary services, beyond what it is legally required to deliver. He has also said, “we will also have to cut some statutory services”1. I suggest Anderson reads the official Government guidelines which say:

“Most council services are mandatory. This means that the council must do them because they are under a duty to do so by law.

Some council services and functions are discretionary. These are services a council can choose to provide but does not have to. They are varied, ranging from large economic regeneration projects at one end of the scale, to the removal of wasp nests at the other.” 2

So what is the difference between mandatory and statutory? There isn’t one! Both are a legal requirement, and councils are under a duty to do both by law.  The discretionary part comes over the level and type of service they provide. For instance, they could say that they still claim to provide a library service (which is mandatory) even if they only have one library left (Walsall Council has proposed this).

In an attempt to muddy the waters, and justify cuts made already, Anderson has redefined some mandatory services as discretionary.

When he says: “we won’t set an illegal budget” he’s being disingenuous, because the council have already done this.3 (Unite Community Branch is taking this up on the grounds that cuts discriminate against the disabled.)

Up to now the council have been able to get around this by not chopping the whole service just parts of it. For instance they have a duty to provide adult social care packages, but have cut these from 14,000 to 9,000. (As anyone knows with experience of this provision, it’s a mess. The council have farmed the contracts out to providers who struggle to fulfil their contracts, and who have workers who are underpaid and overworked.)placard-at-town-hall

Redefining a mandatory service as discretionary has allowed councils the wriggle room to make cuts and claim they are staying within the law. Now with the latest round of cuts looming they are faced with a dilemma.

Cuts to council services are going so deep, and some public services will be so depleted, that they will be unable to function; some may disappear altogether. In addition to the savage reduction in money from Central Government the council (or rather we) are set for the extra ‘Whammy’ of cuts to both in-work and out of work benefits. From April 2017 Liverpool City Council will have to deal with further Government cuts of £90m (£30m each year for three years). On top this, the Benefit Cap,  introduced on 7th November 2016, will affect thousands of households with children, and add millions (possibly £25m a year4) to council costs of rehousing – a legal duty even under the councils definition.

So, any further cuts definitely will be ‘Illegal’.

Here’s the councillors problem: Not to make cuts will break the law. But to make cuts will ehh… break the law?

Which law will Councillors’ choose to break? The law that says they have to provide public services to the people of Liverpool that voted them in. Or the law that says they have to implement savage cuts, imposed because of an immoral and unjustifiable reduction in funding from a government. A government that nobody here voted for, and that has no support in Liverpool.

Ritchie Hunter


  1. Guardian 10 Nov 2015: In the next two years, Liverpool is likely to have to cut statutory services. But setting an unlawful budget as it did in the 1980s is not an option
  2. The LGA quick guide to local government says: Most council services are mandatory. This means that the council must do them because they are under a duty to do so by law (eg to operate an alcohol licensing regime under the Licensing Act 2003). Some mandatory functions are tightly controlled by central government, resulting in a similar level of service across the country (eg the administration of housing benefit). Other mandatory requirements (eg the library function) leave councils with some discretion over the level and type of service they provide.
  3. Joe Anderson said: “Times have moved on, not only can we not set an illegal budget, but we won’t set an illegal budget.” (BBC, 28 Oct 2011)
  4. Joe Halewood estimates there are nearly 7,000 Liverpool children in danger of becoming homeless, 17,000 across Merseyside. (

Further notes:

  1. The Tories aim is to take away government funding altogether. Liverpool City Council received £567m from Government in 2010. By 2020 it will only get 148m.
  2. LCC have legally binding PFI agreements amounting to many £millions. For example £2m a year for 25years (Central Library); £300m 30 year PFI contract with Jarvis from 2001, including £4.3m a year for Parklands High School in Speke, which is lying empty.

One comment

  1. Good stuff Ritchie.

    Lest we forget that, while the government distracted us with the EU referendum, the UN made their opinion on tory human rights abuses perfectly clear in their report to them

    Even if one weren’t to agree with an illegal budget, we can’t be caught thinking that cuts have any moral, or legal, substance to them whatsoever.

    It’s an unprecedented situation for councillors I guess… those who show up to meetings with regular folk, and who are willing to work together on campaigning against austerity- these are counsellors worth working with, I think, even when we don’t entirely agree.


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