Parties clash over cuts threat to Tower Hamlets’ community language service

Mayor John Biggs accused Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats of 'cynical scaremongering' following comme

Mayor John Biggs accused Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats of 'cynical scaremongering' following comments by Shadwell ward councillor, Rabina Khan, that charging fees for a language service would lead to it closing. Picture: MIKE BROOKE/RABINA KHAN - Credit: Archant

The mayor has accused political opponents of “cynical scaremongering” after they condemned budget cuts to a community language service.

Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats alleged on Monday that the Labour led council’s move to fund the CLS service entirely from fees rather than grants would lead to it closing down.

Liberal Democrat Shadwell ward councillor, Rabina Khan, said: “It is typical of mayor John Biggs’s council to change the funding model for the service without any meaningful consultation with the people impacted.

“The CLS provides a vital community service that champions and helps the diverse communities of Tower Hamlets.

Labour’s attempt to scrap it by stealth is disgraceful.”

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The service’s staff provide classes to children aged eight to 15 after school hours on 11 languages including Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese and Urdu.

Lessons are held in 90 venues across the borough including in schools, libraries, community centres, churches and mosques.

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It also promotes citizenship and aims to develop children’s understanding of British and Islamic values.

It costs £631,000 a year to run. Its tutors are employed by the council but work with the charities, community and voluntary groups which host the classes.

The Liberal Democrats urged the mayor to ask people’s opinions properly and put together a plan to run the service using public money.

Cllr Khan called for supporters to sign a petition at The Petition Site, which has already been signed by more than 10,000 people, and join protesters outside the Town Hall at 6pm on February 20.

Fellow Liberal Democrat, Elaine Bagshaw, drew a comparison with the closure of council run nurseries.

“As with the nurseries, Labour has once again shown they cannot be trusted to run a public service that is vital to the cohesion of the diverse communities of Tower Hamlets,” she said.

But mayor Biggs shot back: “It’s typical that the Lib Dems, who in Tower Hamlets have embraced the rump of Lutfur Rahman’s group, are engaging in cycnical scaremongering.”

He said the council was not closing the service but was proposing to work with community groups to deliver it in the face of “savage” government cuts.

“We value the community language service and will continue to support them to make this sustainable for the future,” he said.

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