Robert Hunt reports on the establishment of Communist Party organisation in south-west England and Cornwall after a 30-year hiatus.


Delegates from five of the region's six active branches gathered in Exeter last weekend to make plans for 2011 and elect a district committee to lead their work.

This timely initiative took place as Tory and Lib Dem councils are slashing jobs and services across the South West with an enthusiasm unmatched almost anywhere else in Britain.

Tory-run Dorset county council is running down its fire, children, special needs, disability and countryside services, closing day care centres and threatening to shut over half of its 34 branch libraries where no volunteers can be found. Health staff have already been earmarked for redundancy.

Whereas most councils across Britain have suffered a drop of at least 10 per cent in central government funding, Dorset is one of the very few to receive an increase.

The ruling Conservatives and Independents of Cornwall council are cutting social and library services and abolishing 2,000 jobs, while Gloucestershire county council Tories are also chopping libraries, youth centres, adult day centres and 1,000 posts.

The Con-Dem South Gloucestershire district council is withdrawing almost a quarter of the £2.5 million promised to build a primary school for children with special needs.

Devon county council is cutting support services for victims of domestic violence and scrapping 900 jobs immediately.

Tory-run Somerset county council is chopping 700 staff this year with at least 800 more posts to follow. Up to half of all rural bus services are being scrapped and - in a bid for 'barbarians of the year' award - all funding of the arts is coming to an end.

North Somerset district council is privatising its cultural and leisure services, with the loss of at least 130 posts.

In Swindon, the Tory council is stopping its 'dial-a-ride' community transport grant for people with disabilities, condemning the service to cuts, commercialisation or closure. Across Tory-run Wiltshire, ten village libraries must either be taken over by unpaid volunteers or they will close.

Around 300 jobs are going in Cornwall and Gloucestershire NHS mental health trusts, along with NHS losses in Taunton and Somerset.

Lib Dem-run Bristol city council is shedding 340 jobs, including through compulsory redundancy, as it cuts housing, food safety, pest control and community policing services.

Most of these councils are making deeper cuts in jobs and services rather than increase council tax or draw upon their reserves.

Cuts on this scale will have a devastating effect, especially in large areas of Devon and Cornwall where incomes are 25 per cent and more below the British average. Not surprisingly, one-third of the region's councils refuse to disclose whether they have carried out equality impact assessments in relation to major cuts, as required under the 2010 Equality Act to protect the most vulnerable groups in society.

But resistance is growing. Protest marches called by trade union and community organisations have already taken place in Plymouth, Dorchester, Bristol and Taunton.

Earlier this month, Communists played a key role in forcing Yeovil town council to convene a town meeting about the cuts under a little-used provision of the Local Government Act.

A petition backed by the local trades council meant that local people could discuss and vote almost unanimously for a resolution condemning both Somerset county council and the Con-Dem coalition at Westminster. Some (but not all) Lib-Dem councillors present moved an amendment to delete criticism of their Conservative partners in Downing Street.

In Barnstaple, Communists, socialists and Greens are using the 1972 Act to force the town council to hold a referendum, where the question calls upon the local Lib Dem MP to resign from the coalition government in protest at cuts in the town.

'The Lib Dems will get their just desserts in the May local elections', declared Liz Payne, chairperson of the Communist Party's new South West of England and Cornwall district committee.  

'The winds of change are blowing across northern Africa and the Middle East - and we're even seeing a breeze here in the West Country', quipped Ken Keable, the newly-elected district secretary.

Communist Party of Britain general secretary Robert Griffiths pointed to the 'connecting thread' between the policies of the Con-Dem government at home and British imperialism's foreign policies in north Africa and the Middle East.

'On every front, those policies are dictated by the interests of Britain's monopoly corporations, particularly those in the City of London and their "partners in crime" in the oil, armaments and other key sectors', he told the district congress.