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Ethnic language service could fold if fees are brought in, say Tower Hamlets protesters

PUBLISHED: 13:44 21 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:06 21 February 2019

Demo at Tower Hamlets Council to stop budget cuts to ethnic language service. Picture: Mike Brooke

Demo at Tower Hamlets Council to stop budget cuts to ethnic language service. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Ethnic language classes paid for out of Tower Hamlets council tax are facing collapse in a multi-cultural area like London's East End with a decision to strip £31,000 from their budget.

Campaigner Apsana Begum (left) addresses Tower Hamlets councillors in plea to save language service. Picture: Mike BrookeCampaigner Apsana Begum (left) addresses Tower Hamlets councillors in plea to save language service. Picture: Mike Brooke

Vacancies are being frozen and plans have been revealed to start charging for lessons.

Campaigners protesting at the town hall at last night’s council budget meeting fear another £250,000 will be wiped off in the next two years, causing the service to fold.

“The language service is already hollowed out after £600,000 cuts since 2016,” campaigner Apsana Begum told the East London Advertiser.

“The mayor pledges that he’s committed to preserving and promoting languages, but says the language service isn’t immune.

“A lot of families can’t afford £8 a week for lessons—many are already struggling on benefits. To expect them to pay for a service that the council has run for 30 years is a shattering blow.”

Apsana, who grew up in a Syletti-speaking household on the Isle of Dogs and attended Bangla classes before she was 10, handed in a petition calling for “a solid commitment” to keep public funding for the language service.

She told councillors: “I’m disappointed having to stand on this platform in a borough with the most linguistically diverse population in the entire country, requesting that the community language service be retained.

“This is an emotional campaign about the cultural identity of diverse populations in the East End. It’s about teaching heritage, culture and identity.”

Protesters say the decision to cut funding was ironic just a day before International Mother Language Day.

But Mayor John Biggs insisted there are no plans to close the community language service.

“We need to make savings,” he said. “No service can be immune from that, given the scale of government cuts we’re facing.

“The savings we think we can achieve through managing staff vacancies. There will be full consultation on all options before any final decision.”

His ruling Labour group voted for the £31,000 savings by not recruiting posts which become vacant, while a review is to be carried out to look at “sustainable alternatives” such as “limited financial contribution” from those using the service or working with voluntary organisations.

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