Actor’s plea ignored at Camden budget meeting

CAMDEN councillors ignored a plea to “become national heroes and change the face of British politics by not setting a cuts budget” and allowed the axe to fall.

Hundreds gathered outside the Town Hall in King’s Cross on Monday night ahead of a heated meeting which saw the budget rubber-stamped.

The protesters called on the Labour-run council to refuse to implement the cuts.

But councillors said this was not a viable option because it would leave anonymous bureaucrats setting the budget.

They said it was with a heavy heart that they were making cuts of more than �80million over the next three years after being forced to by the government.

This year, council tax will be frozen and the council has outlined �35million in efficiency savings.

But it still has to cut �12million from frontline services – forcing the probable closure of libraries, children’s centres and older people’s resource centres.

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About 1,000 council staff will also lose their jobs over the next three years, costing the council �12million in redundancies.

Heartfelt deputations were organised by concerned residents and union leaders.

Kentish Town father, Giles Perry, presented a petition on behalf of hundreds of parents who use the play service.

“The impact of cutting the play service will be devastating, especially for low income families and single mothers,” he said.

Award-winning actor and libraries campaigner Roger Lloyd-Pack said: “You could be national heroes by setting an example and rejecting the budget. I want you to stand up for what you believe in and say no to these cuts. Overnight, you could transform the face of British politics.”

Labour finance boss Cllr Theo Blackwell claimed it was not an option to fail to set a budget because the situation would become much worse for everyone if they went down that route.

“What really sticks in my throat is that the people who are going to be impacted most had nothing to do with the banking crisis,” he said.

“The way these cuts have come through leaves people with very little choice.

“This is the beginning of a six- year programme of government cuts. We are not awash with reserves so we cannot pay for things from those. We would only be awash with reserves if we did not fix schools.

“It breaks our hearts to have to do this. We have grown up in Camden using Camden services and, whichever political party we are, no-one relishes the decisions we are having to make.”

The three other political groups on the council put forward budget amendments but all were rejected.

The Lib Dems pledged to save the Age Concern resource centres and the Netherwood Day Centre but were attacked for not explaining how they would pay for it.

Group leader Cllr Keith Moffitt said: “The budget should have been much more imaginative. We do not feel the Labour party has done enough to protect frontline services. There has been a headlong rush towards closures and not enough imagination.”

The Conservative group called for changes to council staff terms and conditions to be brought forward to this year to save money, while the Green party member called for more sharing of services and higher fees and charges.

Conservative leader Cllr Andrew Mennear said: “At a time when we are all under pressure in local government, cutting back on the voluntary sector is not the right direction to go in. After much soul searching and debate with officers, we decided it was important to bring forward the changes to working terms and conditions for staff.”

As well as the shortfall in day-to-day funding, the council is also facing a �400million gap in its capital budget which would have been spent on improving schools, old people’s homes and infrastructure.

Cllr Blackwell said of the amendments: “Neither of the amendments tackle the deficit in capital funding and we have to find money to fix our schools. All the Tory amendments say privatisation and outsourcing, and the Lib Dems’ are nonsense.”