All-important budget meeting descends into chaos amid accusations of homophobia and verbal bullying
The crucial budget meeting at which Tower Hamlets council was considering �55m worth of cuts saw the public kicked out of the gallery after alleged homophobia and threatening behaviour last night.
In a meeting that lasted over four hours, councillors were also unable to come to an overall agreement on the cuts package for public services and will have to return on March 8 to try again.
Beforehand union and protest groups made their voices heard outside the town hall in Mulberry Place in opposing the cuts with police vetting people as they went into the meeting,
Jean Lane, Unison’s assistant branch secretary, said three people were turned away despite there still being room at the meeting because they were identified as “trouble-makers”.
But scenes became chaotic inside the council room as a result of alleged comments from the public gallery.
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One councillor, Anna Lynch, said she heard someone shout “poofter” as fellow councillor Peter Golds was speaking.
At a later adjournment, she reported to the meeting’s chair, Motin Uz-Zaman, that she had been verbally threatened by a young man.
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When he refused to leave and people around him voiced support for him, council officers including chief executive Kevan Collins took the decision to clear the public gallery.
Mr Golds later said he had dealt with similar remarks in past meetings and that he was considering speaking to the police today.
Amid the barracking and counter-accusations of councillors over who was responsible for the toxic atmosphere, the business of setting the borough’s budget seemed at times to be overlooked.
In the end, mayor Lutfur Rahman accepted amendments from the Lib Dem and Respect councillors to release �1.7million from council reserves and �5 million from the redevelopment of a car pound site in Commercial Road.
But he rejected a number of Labour amendments, including turning council propaganda paper East End Life into a quarterly publication and a plan to put an extra police officer in all 17 borough wards.
He said this would cut across negotiations he is currently having with the Greater London Authority and deputy London mayor Kit Malthouse to release �460,000 of funding to Tower Hamlets for extra 21 officers.
As a result, the councillors will return on March 8 to reconsider the total budget package hoping that they can do so in a more harmonious atmosphere.