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Tower Hamlets pledge to keep free school meals and set up poverty fund in face of £58m cuts

PUBLISHED: 13:36 11 January 2017 | UPDATED: 13:54 11 January 2017

Mayor John Biggs facing cuts by Theresa May's government

Mayor John Biggs facing cuts by Theresa May's government

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The Mayor of one of Britain's most deprived boroughs plans to get round government spending cuts to keep free school meals, keep libraries open and set up a poverty fund for families on the breadline.

Mayor John Biggs meeting public at Mile End's Bancroft Library to answer questions on council spendingMayor John Biggs meeting public at Mile End's Bancroft Library to answer questions on council spending

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs has today set out his draft £339m budget for the next three years to “protect services” in London’s East End while being forced by Theresa May’s government to axe £58m from public spending—£1 in every £6.

It follows a series of public consultations over the past two months when householders gave the mayor their priorities.

“The scale of savings required will mean tough decisions,” he admits. “But I am committed to protecting services as much as possible and supporting the most vulnerable people—despite the government’s unfair cuts.

“We are keeping all our libraries, leisure centres and children’s centres open, unlike many other local authorities.

Tower Hamlets cabinet budget meetingTower Hamlets cabinet budget meeting

“We are also protecting free primary school meals and the council tax support for our poorest residents.”

His budget plan, which is being debated by Tower Hamlets council next month, includes setting up a new poverty fund to help worst-hit families, create 1,000 apprenticeships, ring-fence funds for primary school meals, keep all public libraries, leisure centres, children’s centres and Idea Stores open and guarantee enough to maintain public parks.

The council has identified £30m of ‘back office’ savings to cover some of these costs, partly by setting a longer-term budget and streamlining the way services are run—but no mention of any redundancies.

The budget plan runs until 2020—breaking with the normal process of yearly budget setting—to allow the Town Hall to “plan for the future with more stable services”.

Mayor Biggs... budget cash for street maintenanceMayor Biggs... budget cash for street maintenance

The Mayor’s proposals include a new £5m ‘Tackling Poverty’ fund to protect struggling families and helping them into work, tripling spending on street maintenance such as filling potholes and providing more bike lockers, installing free wifi in public places and taking on more enforcement officers to deal with rubbish dumping, dog fouling and anti-social behaviour.

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