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Bradford takes a battering - yet again

The Yorkshire city's councilis wrestling with brutal cuts imposed by Eric Pickles. PETER LAZENBY reports on the damage inflicted

The loss of another 700 jobs at Bradford District Council has been laid at the door of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government - Eric Pickles.

But it is not the first time Bradford has felt the effects of Pickles's anti-public sector venom. Pickles is a Yorkshireman who was born in Keighley, which is now part of the Bradford Metropolitan District.

In 1979 he became a Bradford Tory councillor and was leader of Bradford Tory group of councillors from 1988 to 1990.

To gain control of the hung council in 1988, Pickles politicised the normally neutral position of mayor to use the mayor's casting vote.

He announced a five-year plan to cut the council's budget by £50 million, reduce the workforce by a third and privatise services.

He abandoned the tradition of rotating the post of mayor annually between the three main parties so that he could ensure a Tory placeman was maintained in the position - along with the casting vote.

Now in the post of secretary of state for communities and local government in the coalition, he is doing to every city in the country what he started to do in Bradford from 1988 to 1990 - introducing swathes of job losses and axing and privatising of services.

His old stamping ground of Bradford is just one of the victims, albeit for the second time around.

Since the Tories and their Lib Dem collaborators took power, Bradford has faced £100m in cuts, and in coming years faces another £100m. The effects have been appalling and are going to get worse.

Bradford has a large inner-city area and faces more than its share of deprivation.

Unite is one of the unions campaigning to "mitigate the job losses and cuts to vital services for some of the most disadvantaged groups in Bradford."

Unite regional officer Mark Fieldhouse says: "The council is wrestling with unacceptable cuts to its budgets in the next two years imposed by the financial straitjacket policies of central government.

"Services such as children's centres are threatened with closure, which puts the mockers on the government's claim that 'we are all in this together'."

Unite has about 520 members working at the council and is fighting to protect jobs and working conditions.

Fieldhouse says employees' terms and conditions "have been ceaselessly eroded under the coalition since 2010."

The union is also battling to protect services to the city's most vulnerable people.

"We will mobilise communities to send a message to Whitehall that enough is enough when it comes to the relentless menu of cuts to local government services," he says.

Unison branch secretary Linda Crowther says the council had tried to cope with the cuts by means such as "de-layering of managerial duties" to avoid compulsory redundancies.

"But there is now a real threat of compulsory redundancies as this latest savage budget cut starts to be implemented," she says.

"The less painful choices and solutions to the problem have all been tried, but the government is hell-bent on destroying jobs and services in our communities.

"Their austerity experiment has failed completely. Bradford is suffering enormous pain and hardship because of this and our local economy is struggling desperately to stay afloat.

"Unless and until this Tory-led coalition is replaced at national level, their attack on local authorities, especially in the north, will go on and on.

"Whole services will be lost permanently and individual lives will be plunged into misery because of unemployment.

"As a direct result of this, the district's private sector suffers from a lack of customers with enough money to buy their goods and services.

"Many Unison members have co-operated with changes to their role and increased responsibility to try to avoid the need for compulsory redundancies.

"But the cuts are massive and they are bound to impact on members' pay, terms and conditions.

"We are going to need all the energy, skill and commitment we can muster in the months ahead to cope with all this, while ever this government's ideologically motivated attack on jobs and services is allowed to progress."

Pickles's enthusiasm for attacking his home city - as well as many others - has so far reduced individual spending power in Bradford by £147 a year, compared with the 10 wealthiest local authorities in Britain, where residents have lost an average of just £20.

Ironically, Pickles was born into a Labour-supporting family. His home town of Keighley is a mainly working-class community where the textile industry once thrived, though no longer.

In 1893 the Independent Labour Party (ILP), forerunner of the Labour Party, was founded in Bradford.

A former industrial building in the city centre carries a splendid mural marking the pride of Bradford's labour and trades union movement in that historic fact.

And among the ILP's founder members was Pickles's grandfather. He won't be turning in his grave. He'll be spinning.


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