Posted in Inverclyde Politics

The Arts and Austerity

A hot topic on the local political scene over the last couple of years has been the issues surrounding The Beacon theatre. The Beacon, if you remember, went cap in hand to the council asking for money to pay their debts. We were told that if this money was not forthcoming then the theatre would be forced to close. At a time of savage and unnecessary cuts to local jobs and services, driven by the Tories in London and enthusiastically supported by their friends in New Labour, it is no surprise that the idea of handing the theatre a no strings attached bailout raised some anger locally. The result of all the political “to-ing and fro-ing” was that Inverclyde Council via a consensus between the New Labour and SNP councillors found the money to save the theatre from closure, although rumours still abound regarding the financial viability of The Beacon and that more public money will be needed again in the not to distant future to again stave off closure.

At the Scottish Socialist Party we didn’t want to see the theatre close either, the arts are a valuable part of our society and Inverclyde is a better place for having The Beacon. But the No Bailout Campaign highlighted some aspects that still need closer scrutiny. I’ve heard people say this was a “one aspect issue”, we either bail out the beacon or we don’t. That is at best a very naive thing to say, at worst deliberately dishonest. There are lots of things going on here, and if we are to have a healthy local democracy we have to be able to talk about these, and the No Bailout Campaign certainly did an excellent job at getting people talking.

Some questions they raised which still haven’t been answered are how did the beacon even end up in this position?, and how were the management unaware of the contractual clauses and obligations in the construction of the theatre that led them to be in this financial situation?

The Inverclyde branch of the Scottish Socialist Party also raised the question of who should own the Beacon. In a booklet that I recently wrote for the SSP, I argued that the correct set up for our economy is a mix of public and privately owned industries. I made a point of going through everything that belongs in the public domain, or in other words things that should be owned by the people. Among the likes of industries of national importance  I argued that the Arts belong in the public sector. Art is for the people.

Lets just think about the sums of money  coming out of the public purse and going into The Beacon, the normal operating budget over and above this bailout. And yet we have no democratic control or accountability for how that money is spent or how the theatre is operated. I know that the SNP have argued for a councillor to sit on the board of The Beacon. At the SSP we would go further than this and argue that the theatre should be brought into what would be commonly thought of as public democratic ownership. It currently has a weird privately owned but not for profit status, although crucially profitable parts of the enterprise such as the bar and restaurant are privately run for profit by a local businessman. So essentially The Beacon is financially viable as a whole, but in its current arrangement the profitable parts can not be used to cover the non-profitable parts, instead the theatre requires a bailout from public funds to keep it afloat. We believe that the theatre should not just be funded by the public purse, but operated by a democratically accountable body and that crucially this should include all parts of the enterprise – not just the loss making elements. We suggested a reformed Inverclyde Leisure as a possible option for managing The Beacon as a democratically owned institution but there are various ways this could be achieved.

We also want to see greater levels of democratic input into such bodies, art is for the people. ALL of the people, not just the financially better off. Local Inverclyde artists and groups should be able to use the facility, instead of being priced out of the equation as they currently are. Inverclyde, and Scotland in general, has no shortage of talented writers and performers. We need to be better at providing them with a platform to develop and present their skills.

In the grand scheme of things we are happy The Beacon has been saved for now, but we object to just giving public cash away for nothing. Of course saving The Beacon fits into the bigger picture of what the SSP stands for. Unlike New Labour and the SNP, we don’t only want to save the 60 or so jobs at The Beacon, we want to save every local job that is under threat. We don’t just want to save this one local service, we want to save every local service. Among the slogans we use, this one sums our position up perfectly – NOT ONE WORKER TO LOSE THEIR JOB, NOT ONE SERVICE TO BE LOST.

So lets not fall for the politicians trick of trying to make us decide which services are more important than others. Lets unite, stand together and say NO CUTS IN INVERCLYDE! Some of you might have heard last years big debate between our regional organiser for the West of Scotland Richie Venton, and Inverclyde Council leader Cllr Stephen McCabe. Cllr McCabe called this debate between himself and Richie a score draw. In my opinion you would have to be extremely generous to Cllr McCabe to award him a draw, but I would probably say that anyway.  If you haven’t managed to listen to it yet we have it archived on YouTube among other places. Clicky here for a listen.

The debate was of course centred around the proposed cuts to local jobs and services. We have demanded that there are no jobs or services lost, a “no cuts budget” in other words. Cllr McCabe was defending his role in inflicting these cuts on the people of Inverclyde.

Its not difficult to spot the obvious glaring flaw in McCabe’s logic. Lets recap exactly what his reply to Richie was. He said, “The problem with your tactics is that the money will run out”. Or in other words, if we implement a no cuts budget and run at a deficit, the money will eventually run out, our grant will still be cut and we’ll have to make the cuts further down the road anyway. That seems like a fair assessment of what he said. But think about it. The worst case scenario, if the council were to set a “no cuts” budget, is that we would have to make the cuts at a later date. So what is Cllr McCabe and the council’s alternative? To simply roll over and not even put up a fight! To just implement these cuts with no effort what-so-ever put in to resist them.

Cllr McCabe, as predicted, has insisted that he is opposed to these cuts. So, of course have other New Labour councillors and politicians. Not to mention the SNP who also claim to be anti-austerity. But with all these anti-austerity voices supposedly on the scene, should there not be visible a mass movement of resistance to this ideological Tory attack on our jobs and services? There should be a deafening roar of opposition. But from New Labour and the SNP we are hearing barely a whisper. In fact, the only party truly representing the majority in their opposition to these cuts is the Scottish Socialist Party.

New Labour’s true position on these cuts was revealed when their MP’s, including the then local MP Ian McKenzie, voted for an other £30 billion of cuts. If New Labour are really oppossed to these cuts, as Cllr McCabe claims, then why are their MP’s voting for more cuts? Why did Cllr McCabe not condemn New Labour MPs for their complicity in voting for more cuts? There is a valuable lesson here, don’t judge politicians by what they say – judge them by what they do. What New Labour did was vote to support the Tory austerity agenda and inflict savage cuts on our jobs and services.They try to defend themselves by claiming they were voting to balance the budget. Well, scrapping Trident rather than our jobs and services would balance the budget, but guess what? New Labour also voted to spend £100 billion renewing Trident.   

Their excuse for not doing as we ask, for not setting a “no cuts budget” is particularly weak. As I’ve already said, the worst that can happen is that the cuts will happen anyway. But that is worst case scenario. The alternative is that we win, force Westminster to reallocate funds from elsewhere (there is a lot of money elsewhere that doesn’t need to be elsewhere) and we don’t have to endure any cuts. Or maybe the immediate outcome would be somewhere between these two positions, and less severe cuts would be made. By simply rolling over and not doing anything, we are certain to suffer these cuts. Fight back, mobilise and set a “no cuts budget” and there is a chance we don’t suffer any cuts. So which option do you find most acceptable? Cllr McCabe and New Labour’s choice to just meekly accept these cuts, or the SSP’s call for resistance and the chance to avoid the cuts altogether?

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