Hackney Council Budget
I spent the evening of my 39th birthday at Full Council passing Hackney's 2011/12 Budget.
This was a fairly grim experience on two levels:
a) we were having to absorb £44m in cuts to our budget by Eric Pickles
b) the local bits of the SWP, the Socialist Party (ex-Militant and including the author of the now dormant spoof Luke blog), the Greens and UK Uncut were in the balcony and outside the Town Hall protesting not against Pickles and the Tories but localising the blame, exactly as Pickles wants, against the Labour leadership of one of the UK's most progressive councils for setting a legal, balanced budget
The protesters have an odd way of trying to win allies on the centre-left, which consisted of moronic heckling and disruption of speakers and chanting, nursery rhyme fashion so that the meeting had to be temporarily adjourned:
“So much courage in the Middle-East, So little in Hackney Town Hall”,
“No if’s, no buts, No public sector cuts”,
“Tax the Rich”,
“How can you stand up without a back-bone?”,
“Pipe is delusional”
and “Shove your ‘dented shield’ where the sun don’t shine.”
I was greeted with a chorus of "Twit, Twit, Twit" - apparently they didn't like me calling them "Trot Chumps" on Twitter. They probably liked it even less when I explained that "no cuts" is literally just a slogan - a classic Leninist transitional demand designed to get people fired-up for something that is physically unachievable within the context of democratic elections.
There were some very courageous speeches despite the bully-boy heckling including from newly elected councillors who actually beat the Tories in marginal wards in May, as opposed to armchair revolutionaries who just mouth off about "fighting" them as a way of increasing their party's newspaper sales.
I am pleased to report that a much heralded across the far left press backbench rebellion didn't happen and every Labour councillor showed discipline and solidarity by backing the budget we had collectively agreed at Group.
I am also pleased to report that the Budget protects frontline services in our borough. There will be no raising of eligibility criteria for homecare for the elderly, there will be no library closures, no closure of children’s centres or youth facilities, no reduction in the cleanliness of our streets or many of the other services on which residents in Hackney depend. One of the biggest impact of the cuts has been the Government’s removal of the ‘area based grant’ which was money that more deprived areas received to help tackle the high level of social need. This money was directed through Team Hackney – our strategic partnership. However, the Council has found £3m to contribute to maintaining some of these services that would have otherwise gone completely – in particular around youth crime intervention and domestic violence support.
A lot of this has been possible due to Hackney Council having managed its finances well over the past few years. In previous years, through efficiency savings we have been able to invest in front line services. In identifying savings this year – whilst facing a massive cut to our spending – the priority was to drive out further back office efficiencies, and improve ways of working.
Hackney's Labour Mayor Jules Pipe was very clear about our opposition to these cuts – they are imposed by Central Government and are an ideological attack on services and the communities we represent. But we’ve also been clear that we have to defend residents and services from the Government’s onslaught.
He said if we hadn’t set a Budget for Hackney, then we would be using residents as a weapon against the Government. There would be an immediate shut down of services – nurseries would close, meals on wheels would stop, libraries and leisure centres would close. This would be playing politics with people’s jobs and lives. Next year we face further reductions in our grant funding. None of us became Labour councillors to want to make cuts. But in making decisions we will do everything we can to make sure that the impact of the cuts made by this Tory Government are minimised. We will be applying our Labour values to every decision we make – and will work relentlessly to protect those we came into politics to fight for and represent.