Mass protests as Tower Hamlets votes 5pc council tax rise and £75m budget cuts
PUBLISHED: 09:38 23 February 2017 | UPDATED: 18:45 28 February 2017
Protesters picketed en mass last night’s budget meeting at Tower Hamlets Council as a £75 million raft of public service cuts was voted through.
Councillors in the Labour administration in one of Britain’s most-deprived boroughs voted 24 to 18 for the ‘austerity’ budget outlined for the next three years.
The savings for the hard-pressed east London local authority being made in children’s early learning and youth services, the careers service and effectively privatising nurseries were blamed on government cuts and the Chancellor ordering them to raise council tax to cover social care.
Mums turned up—their children in pushchairs and babies in arms—to plead for three specialist day-nurseries to stay under the council umbrella rather than be run by outside commercial contractors.
“There have been sleepless night because of these harrowing times,” Caroline Tietjens, ne of a delegation of young mothers, told councillors. “Many mums feel isolated. Children with disabilities needing specialist care should be able to mix with other children.
Reduced staff would make the service difficult to maintain. Another mum, Nouruja Rahman insisted: “Outsourcing is not the way forward. This is an attack on children who cannot speak for themselves. Every child does matter.”
She pleaded with the mayor: “Don’t let our children down—they are our future.”
Protesters waved banners demanding “Save our Nurseries, “Say No to Cuts” and “No Cuts you Youth Services”. They held up banners in the public gallery, with jeers and heckling as some councillors tried to be heard.
Members of Tower Hamlets Socialist Party handing in a 10,000-name petition against council tax rising were allowed to address the meeting, warning of families struggling from last year’s 4pc hype who wouldn’t be able to meet this year’s bill.
Sultana Begum said: “The 5pc increase means a total nine per cent in 12 months, yet we have one of the country’s highest child poverty rates. The rise will hit working families the most who are already struggling on a daily basis.”
Co-petitioner Hugo Pierre urged the council to use its reserves instead. He pointed out: “You have a ‘war chest’ you could use to balance the £58m cuts. There are £72m in reserve that would plug the gap.
“Otherwise families will struggle to meet the increase because income levels are very low.”
The Council Speaker was in conflict several times trying to keep order as members of ruling Labour clashed with the Independent opposition waving fists at them.
Both the Independent and the Tory groups failed to get their alternative budget papers through, hemmed in by Labour’s staunch majority voting.
Labour’s Marc Francis said: “I’ve never heard such nonsense as some of the nonsense in these papers. Pretending you can ‘magic up’ £10m here and another £10m there is totally irresponsible to mislead the council.
“We have to make difficult choices to take this 3pc off for social care because it’s the Tory government policy—the Chancellor is telling us to take it. That’s why there’s going to be a 5pc increase in council tax.”
The mayor’s ‘austerity budget’ means £75 million cuts to services while council tax is up 5pc to meet the cost of social care.
Nurseries, youth centres and services for students, the elderly and community organisations have all been hit, despite what opponents in the four-hour debate said was the £474m stashed away in reserves from the previous administration.
But Labour pledged to keep free school meals, keep libraries open and set up a poverty fund for families on the breadline to cushion the blow of council tax rises they said was forced on them by the government.
Mayor John Biggs’ £339m ‘outline’ budget running to 2020 was being hit by Whitehall axing £58m from public spending, he pointed out.
A new poverty fund to help worst-hit families was being set up and 1,000 new apprenticeships were being created to reduce poverty by getting more unemployed into jobs, as well as funds being ring-fencing for school meals, libraries, leisure centres, children’s centres and Idea Stores.
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