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Frontline services to go as Barnet agrees to shave £54m of its budget

PUBLISHED: 10:00 06 March 2011

Service users from Barnet Mencap protest against the cuts outside Barnet Town Hall 01.03.11.

Service users from Barnet Mencap protest against the cuts outside Barnet Town Hall 01.03.11.

Archant

THERE were rowdy scenes at Barnet Town Hall on Tuesday night as councillors agreed to slice £54million off the council’s budget over the next three years.

Up to 20 police officers and several security guards attended the meeting to maintain the peace and patrol the corridors of the Town Hall in Hendon.

But there were angry scenes in the public gallery when word spread that residents had been barred from the overflow room and they were not being allowed to enter the council chamber, even though there were empty seats.

Chants of “Let them in” and “Shame on you” ricocheted around the chamber.

Before councillors voted on the budget cuts, Cllr Lynne Hillan, leader of the council, said: “It has been a very difficult budget to prepare but the current financial situation leaves us with very little option.”

She added that there was “no silver bullet” to take the financial problems away.

The 35 Conservative councillors then voted in favour of cutting £29m off this year’s budget and £54m over the next three years – 23 Lib Dem and Labour councillors voted against the budget.

Among the decisions agreed by Conservative councillors were the closure of eight Sure Start children’s centres across the borough – which is expected to save £2.685m. Sheltered housing wardens for the elderly are also to be scrapped, saving £300,000 and lollipop crossing patrols will no longer be funded by the local authority, saving £117,000. Youth services are set to be slashed by 75 per cent funding over the next three years – totalling £3.2m and by £1.65m this year.

Residents in controlled parking zones (CPZ) will see a 150 per cent hike in their parking permits, from £40 to £100.

Brian Coleman, Conservative cabinet member for the environment said that the budget was not all “doom and gloom” and that most residents would not notice the difference.

He added that the parking increases were necessary, saying: “If you live in a controlled parking zone there are consequences to the privileges you enjoy.”

Leader of the Labour opposition group, Councillor Alison Moore, said that she wanted to challenge the “pernicious myth” that the cuts were necessary because of the previous Labour government’s overspending.

“The Con-Dem Coalition is taking such a risk with our economy, with jobs and with growth, by cutting too deep, too fast,” she said.

“Their deliberate choices will affect us all and here in Barnet we are beginning to see the first wave of house re-possessions that mark the start of a downward spiral in our local economy.”

She accused Conservative councillors of “not listening” to residents and ignoring the wave of protests across the borough.

“All the proposals in the Barnet Tory budget are deliberate political choices. And when you look at those choices you have the real answers why so many Barnet residents are angry and have chosen to protest outside the Town Hall time and time again,” she added.

Child’s Hill Lib Dem councillor Jack Cohen conceded that Barnet Council had to make tough decisions because of the national debt crisis. But he criticised the Tory council for becoming a “laughing stock of the country”.

“This borough under this administration has become the beacon for all that is wrong with local government,” he said.

He added that millions of pounds could be saved by reducing the number of consultants and agency staff employed by the council.

“I say this to the leader of the council, send those consultants packing.”


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