Around 400 residents of Lancaster and Morecambe gathered in front of Lancaster City Council offices on the evening of Wednesday Week Two in protest against government spending cuts.
Protesters comprising of students, teachers, public sector workers and social activists joined together in reaction to the Comprehensive Spending Review announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in Westminster earlier that day. Local members of Unison, National Union of Teachers (NUT), Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), University and College Union (UCU), Labour Party and Green Party also took part in the protest.
One of the organisers, Councillor Andrew Kay, addressed the crowd. He said “the first thing that they say is that the cuts are necessary because of the financial crisis caused by our public sector spending. It’s the banks, the financial institutions that caused this crisis but it’s the people who […] have to pay for this crisis.”
In response to the opposition against public spending cuts, Eric Ollerenshaw, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, said: “I fully recognise [the budget cuts] will cause hardship for some but those in genuine need will be protected and measures are being put in place to help the private sector grow and to provide more private sector jobs.
“Doing nothing is not an option. Delaying action will only make the pain last longer and weaken the country over a longer period. That is why I support the spending plans and hope they can be implemented as fairly, sensitively but effectively as possible over the coming months.”
Morecambe and Lunesdale MP, David Morris, had not responded to request for comment.
There were also speeches by representatives from various groups during the protest.
“They go for the weakest and most vulnerable in the society. The Tories […] attack us the way they have because it is a class choice to do this,” Lancaster student Will Taylor said to the enthusiastic crowd. “We have to respond to this class attack with our own class choice. Students and workers are one group of people with similar views and aspirations, and together we can beat these cuts.”
Clive Grunshaw, who was a Labour candidate in March general election, defended his party. “They claimed that [the budget review] is a reaction to the mess that was left behind by the Labour government. This recession was not caused by the Labour government. It was caused by greedy bankers and […] by global capitalism. The recession was not just in this country […] it’s impacting on every economy in the world,” he said.
Grunshaw also said “we recognised the need to address the deficit, but [only] over time, when the economic recovery is stabilised and secured. Putting relatively well-paid public sector workers out of work, removing them from being net contributors to our economy to being people dependent on benefits will not reduce the deficit.”
The street demonstration lasted for about an hour with the crowd chanting anti-cuts slogans. “They say cut back, we say fight back” and “no ifs, no buts, no public spending cuts” were among the refrains the crowd got behind. Motorists passing by the demonstration blared their horns in support of the protesters.
The protesters then marched around Dalton Square and headed towards the Collegian Club on Gage Street where a public meeting was held. At the meeting, the protesters discussed their next course of action for a wider civil society campaign.
The protesters expressed their concerns about the government cuts, especially the impact on education, child benefits and the local council’s budget.
Second-year accounting and finance student Steven Edgar said “cutting child benefits […] is completely regressive. Even people in the middle income [group] are going to be cut out of the benefits. So, it’s a very important for anyone with children today.”
“I think education should be, basically, free for everybody”, said Ana Tominc, studying for a PhD Linguistics. “It’s a right for every citizen to get education. Governments should pay [for education].”
The protest was organised by a group called Lancaster and Morecambe Against the Cuts. Two policemen were on the lookout for the entire duration the street demonstration. The announcement of the Comprehensive Spending Review, which saw a total of £81bn in cuts per year by 2014-15, has triggered similar local protests across UK.