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Terry Fields

Liverpool’s crisis – MP speaks out

(March 1985)

From Militant, No. 739, 8 March 1985, p. 12.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Liverpool City Council’s stand against the Tory government has been an example to every Labour-controlled local authority. They were elected to create jobs and build houses, to defend and expand services; that is what they have done.

On Thursday 7 March their fight enters a new stage, when the council meets to agree its budget. Their insistence on standing for the interests of the workers who elected them will mean bitter struggle with the Tory government.


Supporting the council to the hilt have been the city’s MPs. On 21 February, Terry Fields, MP for Broadgreen spoke in Parliament in an adjournment debate on Liverpool.

He described the state of the council in 1983 when Labour took control after ten years of Liberal and Tory administration ...

The 10 years of decline in Liverpool under the Tories and the Liberals resulted in the axing of 1,000 local authority jobs, with vacancies in the council’s establishment being left unfilled, the abolition of the direct labour organisation and the privatisation of certain services which resulted in job losses. This happened at a time when more, not fewer, jobs were needed in Liverpool. The rates increases since 1979 were used to compensate for Tory cuts in grants. None of that money was used for improvements in Liverpool. Liverpool city council could provide no cushion.

No mean feat

We have come a long way during the 20 months that the Labour party has been in power in Liverpool. We are proud of our achievements. At a time when unemployment is rising nationally, this is no mean feat. The 1983 general election which brought so many Conservative members to this House has to be set against the Labour victory in Liverpool. It was the Labour Party’s first victory in Liverpool for 10 or 15 years. That landslide victory was continued in the local authority elections in 1984. Five out of the six members of Parliament for Liverpool represent the Labour Party. For the first time in 120 years there is not one Tory member of Parliament for Liverpool. It indicates the trust of the people of Liverpool in the Labour Party, both nationally and locally. It is proof that a socialist programme is not a liability at either national or local elections, as our opponents would have us believe.

What is even more important is that it has highlighted the political awareness of the people of Liverpool as a result of the experience of having the city run by Liberals and Tories, of having a Tory Government in power and the defections to the Social Democratic Party. The turnround in the fortunes of the Labour Party has been an inspiration to the city council and to workers in the Labour movement, both nationally and internationally. An opinion poll commissioned by Liverpool University showed that 73 per cent of Labour voters, 62 per cent of Liberal voters and even 48 per cent of Conservative voters felt that the Government were largely to blame for Liverpool’s problems.

During the last 20 months Liverpool city council has created 1,000 jobs. It has also prevented 1,000 job losses which had been inherited. It has also boosted employment in the private sector. By 1988, 17,000 jobs will have been created by the council’s house-building programme and by its provision of sports facilities. There are 136 apprentices, and 100 sixteen-year-olds are on YTS schemes. Their wages have been topped up to £52 a week and they are guaranteed a job at the end of their training. We are introducing a minimum wage of £100 for local authority workers and a 35-hour week. During the last year 1,057 new houses have been built, and a further 1,211 are to be built in 1984–85. We have provided additional nursery accommodation and reorganised education in order to ensure that every child in Liverpool is provided with the best education that is available.

What is surprising is that with only 30,000 council houses estimated to be built in England and Wales in 1985, over 2,000 of these will be built in Liverpool – that is, one in 15. It is a testimony to the work that the Liverpool City Council is doing and will continue to do, despite the opposition of the Government.

We are in a crisis in Liverpool at the moment; we face a financial crisis that is worse than last year’s crisis. To balance the books we would require 6,000 redundancies or 220 per cent rate rises. That is because of the 10 years of Tory and Liberal rule. The Government target of spending is totally unrealistic. The Government impose penalties for spending on essential services, and there is a totally inadequate rate support grant. The Government have reneged on their agreements of last July, when the Secretary of State, having toured the city’s black spots, said:

“I have never seen housing conditions the like of those I have seen today.”

Yet our resources for housing have been cut by 34 per cent.

Impossible gap

This year the Tories have set us an arbitrary spending target of £220 million, yet we need to spend £270 million just to defend existing jobs and services. There will have to be a 220 per cent. rate rise or 6,000 jobs will go. Last year the Secretary of State said that it would be impossible to run the city with less than £245 million. With inflation, that would give us this year £255 million. But to maintain that we would have to put up the rates and every time the rates go up money goes off the rate support grant, creating an impossible gap for us to fill.

Since 1979 the Government have withdrawn £320 million from the city in rate support grant, housing improvement programme allocation, housing subsidy, and education grant. What we are saying in Liverpool is that we want that money back; it is as simple as that ...

... In the Liverpool city centre, 170 of the 680 stores have already shut, more “Closed” signs are going up and, with the rate increases forecast by the Government, more jobs will go in the Liverpool area. In addition to that, we are being threatened by the Government.

The Secretary of State visited Liverpool in 1984. He gave pledges. In a letter to the leader of the Liverpool city council he said:

“I can give you an assurance that I will do my very best to ensure your allocations in Liverpool next year under the housing investment programme and the urban programme. Taken together, they will enable the council to make positive progress in dealing with the city’s severe needs.”

He said that in Liverpool. He came down to London, reneged on his commitment and denied that he had ever made those statements ...

... the Secretary of State’s latest pronouncement, reported in The Times of 19 February, is an indication that he has firm backing from the Cabinet to take direct action if the Liverpool administration is breaking down. We are well used to threats from the Minister, but this is the second time that the Cabinet have discussed the situation in Liverpool. The first time was in 1981, after the Toxteth riots, when the then Secretary of State (Heseltine), said that it took a riot to make the Cabinet take the problems of Liverpool seriously. Given the background and history that we have gone through in Liverpool, is that the only language that the Government understand when talking about the problems of places such as Liverpool?

We are ready

Perhaps the Secretary of State is envisaging a Molesworth type raid in Liverpool. Perhaps he envisages dressing up in his predecessor’s combat jacket. If he comes in the still of the night we shall be ready for him, whenever he comes. Why is he making attacks on us? Why has he launched the so-called investigation into town hall corruption and listed Liverpool as one of the places to be investigated?

Why was that announcement made? Why is he using the Local Government, Planning and Land Act, with threats of commissioners against us? We believe that this is a pre-emptive strike against the Liverpool city council and the Liverpool people.

We have the support of the people of Liverpool, the trade unions and the people on the estates. We have seen the hypocrisy of this Government in this respect. But Liverpool exemplifies, perhaps in advance of other parts of the country, the processes which are taking place in this country today. The elected representatives of Liverpool will not let the people down. They have been let down too often in the past and they deserve better. We are not going to dirty our hands doing the Tories’ butchery of jobs and services in an already ravaged Liverpool. As far as the Government’s threats are concerned, it will not be dented shields they will have to deal with, because our shields were forged in preparation for the heat of struggle last year and those preparations are going ahead. The Government thought that we would go into battle then. To quote Mrs Thatcher’s soul mate, “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. Liverpool’s people will not be crushed by this or any other Government.

My heritage

I WAS born in a dock area before the war. My father was a docker, so I feel qualified to speak on some of the matters on which I hope to enlarge. I remember, as a young person, seeing around the Pier Head, the Goree Piazza and the Strand, shackled to the wall, bolts where slaves were tied up in the lucrative trade in human misery. The docks epitomise what is wrong in Liverpool – lack of investment of the profits created by Liverpool people. It is all very well for the Secretary of State for the Environment to talk about us whingeing and whining about our lot, but we are hard working people.

During the war and the national dock labour scheme from 1947 to 1964, my father used to stand in the pen with other dockers like a choice animal, waiting to be picked out for work. My father was proud, and characteristic of the spirit of people in Liverpool. We had dignity and got through decades of struggle. I have never known anything other than bad housing, high unemployment and lack of opportunity for Liverpool people. However, we have learnt lessons. One is that the ravages of the system to which we belong bleeds working people. Indeed, it is responsible for their death.

Catalogue of crimes

In 1965, the docks employed 13,589 people. That industry today employs 2,086 – a reduction of more than 80 per cent. There have been corresponding job losses in associated industries and services. There has been no let-up in the de-industrialisation of Liverpool. Between 1971 and 1981 the city lost 90,000, or one quarter, of its jobs. Manufacturing jobs have declined by nearly 40 per cent. and blue collar jobs by 30 per cent. Between 1979 and July 1983, 33,220 redundancies were notified by firms in Liverpool. The catalogue of job losses is endless.

Since 1979, the city has lost one third of its manufacturing jobs and half of the jobs in the city’s largest industries – food, drink and tobacco. Between 1975 and 1982, the city council shed 4,400 jobs through natural wastage. The council is now the largest employer on Merseyside, providing socially useful jobs for 31,000 people. It employs one third of all public sector workers in the city. I have a list of 23 industries in which jobs have been lost. They include vehicles, metal goods, coal and petroleum, chemicals, electrical goods, leather goods, clothing and timber.

The latest figure of unemployment on Merseyside – 100,000 – is an obscenity when it represents decent people who are eager to work. When they are provided with jobs by the council, they show that they can work.

Housing in Liverpool is believed to be among the worst and yet the most expensive in Europe. There are 22,000 people on the council’s waiting list for houses. Urgent repairs are needed to 20,000 council houses. Liverpool has the highest percentage of old, privately rented houses in the country, with the exception of London. Its housing investment allocation has declined, in real terms, from £47 million in 1980 to £28 million in 1984 – 85. But the real decline in its housing investment allocation is highlighted by the fact that the city’s allocation in 1980 was half that which it received in 1974. Since 1980 Liverpool has lost £63 million in housing subsidy. In 1980 the Government contributed £20 million to the city’s housing services. In 1984 if fell to £5.5 million. The catalogue of crimes against the people of Liverpool goes on and on.

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