Haringey budget talks stormed

DESPITE strong anti-cuts protests, campaigners were left disappointed as Haringey Council axed �41million from its budget and closed frontline services.

The budget meeting last Thursday was delayed by more than 90 minutes as protesters occupied the council chamber and two people were arrested for allegedly assaulting police.

But councillors went on to agree the cuts forced by the Coalition’s axe on local government funding.

More than 1,000 council staff are now set to lose their jobs. Drop-in centres like the Jackson’s Lane Lunch Club and Abyssinia Court will close and youth services and clubs face a 75 per cent cut in funding.

In a deputation to the council, Dave Morris, of the Haringey Alliance for Public Services, said: “We all welcome the magnificent demonstrations tonight against the savage cuts proposed. It’s quite clear that the government is deliberately taking money off the public service and the poorest people and giving it to the rich.

“This is unacceptable and we are asking you to step up the pressure on the government and stand with your community.”

But councillors said this was impossible as officers and government officials would then be handed the power to impose cuts.

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Giving her annual state of the borough address, council leader Claire Kober again attacked Hornsey and Wood Green Lib Dem MP and equalities minister Lynne Featherstone.

She said: “We are facing the biggest budget cuts this council has ever seen – it has deprived boroughs which are facing the biggest cuts ever seen – there’s nothing just or equitable about that.”

Labour’s finance boss Cllr Joe Goldberg said his budget stood for “justice”. He said: “We believe we have the measures in here to hold the ship steady while you bring your tsunami of cuts to Haringey.”

But opposition Lib Dems presented a number of budget amendments – claiming they could save large portions of the youth and vulnerable people’s centres facing the axe by trimming more from the back office.

While all Lib Dems voted for their amendments, they were rejected by Labour so the budget went through unchanged.

Cllr Goldberg said: “The suggestions put forward just don’t stack up. We have a shortfall of �41m to find this year thanks to the government’s unprecedented cuts and they haven’t offered a single proposal to find any of these savings. We are already making huge savings to the back office and proposals such as cutting IT are short-sighted. It would make it harder to deliver key frontline services and could cost more in the longer-term.”

The war of words continued outside the chamber.

Lib Dems claimed Labour members “laughed and cheered” when passing cuts, while Cllr Goldberg accused Lib Dem leader Robert Gorrie of defending the coalition’s cuts and the redistribution of funding away from deprived boroughs.

Cllr Gorrie said: “I was shocked by the actions of a minority of protesters but what angered me more was the behaviour of the Labour group.

“They say they care about frontline services and vulnerable residents. Yet when faced with alternative proposals which would save some services for our older residents, help mitigate the cuts to youth centres, the voluntary sector and projects to tackle crime and unemployment, they reject them.

“Labour is more worried about playing the blame game of national politics rather than making the right choices for Haringey’s residents.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Goldberg accused the opposition of defending the fact that Haringey is suffering a 13 per cent cut, while Richmond is being trimmed back by just 0.25 per cent.

“While Haringey Labour remain opposed to the speed and depth of the coalition’s cuts, we are astonished that Haringey Liberal Democrats stand alone in their own local government party defending them,” he said.

“Haringey shouldn’t be facing the harshest cuts. It is an absolute disgrace – not just for a Liberal Democrat but for any Haringey councillor, to support these plans. Haringey residents want their councillors to stand up for Haringey, not advocate the redistribution of funding to other affluent boroughs like Richmond.”