Several hundred people gathered in front of Brixton town hall on February 7th to protest against the budget cuts.
What are they cutting?
Almost every council service, anything up to 1000 council workers, 25% of all staff, this includes:
- The entire park ranger service
- The entire school crossing patrol service which serves 24 schools
- More cuts in Children’s Services
- Libraries budget slashed – staff cut, Nettlefold hall closed, four of nine libraries under cuts consultation
- Discretionary freedom passes for adults with mental health problems
- Regeneration schemes on housing estates
- Cuts and privatisation in adult social care
- Lambeth and Lewisham Colleges to merge – massive cuts to local education
- Reduction in highway maintenance levels and potholes
- Rent rises whilst there are less staff to keep estates safe, clean and in decent state of repair
- Maintenance of the borough’s parks, cemeteries and crematoria is to be scaled back.
- Street cleaning levels reduced
- Many cultural events scrapped
- Three out of four Public toilets to close
- Noise nuisance service
- Reduction in the Faith Engagement Programme, which helps to support events such as Holocaust Memorial Day and Peace on the Streets and other community events and projects.
- And much more. For more info see the council website (400+ pages!)
There were only 90 tickets to get into city hall last night, thus limiting democracy to 90 people only. Police hovered along our entry, as we waited in line to get into Room 8:
And that’s the last illustration I’m afraid, as I was told politely that no filming or pictures were allowed inside.
Steve Reed kicked it all off by telling us all that the evening was NOT a forum, but instead a cabinet meeting, which is held in public. They had allocated an hour of comments for all the issues up for discussion, and each speaker was requested to limit their comments to 3 minutes each. Like the cuts, the more time the council gave you, the more time they took from someone else, forgetting that the time limit, like the budget, is completely arbitrary. They tried to keep it business as usual, but that’s not quite what happened; these aren’t the times for business as usual.
First we sat and listened to the councillors report back on how the cuts would affect their various areas. They thought the national government was wrong to impose these cuts, they claimed the cuts were heavier in inner city areas, and it was particularly egregious that they should be frontloaded as they were.
They emphasized that there would be even more cuts, and a lot more pain, in the years to come.
They used words such ‘unprecedented in our lifetime’, they said the national government had declared war on the welfare state. They were being forced to cut a quarter of the workforce, up to 1,000 posts. All services were being slashed, and all this in a context where things were getting steadily worse for working people in Britain.
While they emphasized they were not happy to be presenting this budget, they presented it all the same. They emphasized that given the cutting of all services, they new that people’s primary worry would be crime, so they were increasing the number of police on the street. Fewer services, more police? It appears they’ve forgotten Brixton’s history with the police, if they ever knew it.
And then it was our turn to speak, starting with the kids from the threatened adventure playgrounds and One O’Clock Clubs. “We can’t just hang around on the streets, because the streets are very dangerous,” challenged one. “Explain to us where we can go and we will go there.” requested another. The audience cheered.
They were followed by a long line of people with one consistent message (and apologies for not capturing all the details, as they are important I know!), these cuts are wrong, they are ideologically motivated, and it is your duty as our elected officials to stand up to them. Someone emphasised they should not be selling our community’s assets, but building desperately needed housing on them. Another that bankers’ bonuses and tax evasion and avoidance should be cut, not services. The council was requested to choose a side, and Jon Rogers of Lambeth Unison compared them to the Vichy government. In fact, there was a lot of historical memory in the room, given that after World War II, with a debt immensely higher than it is today, we built the NHS and the welfare state.
Everyone acknowledged the pain, despair, and anger that these cuts would bring. That once you have lost something it is almost impossible to get it back. That these cuts will impact the minority communities above all, the most vulnerable, the women and children and elderly and disabled.
The final speaker was Kingsley Abrams, labor councillor for Vassall, who had spoken out and voted against the budget. He urged his colleagues to do the same. Steve Reed then proceeded to call him a disgrace. We demanded that he apologise. The room began chanting ‘apologise, apologise!’
And that’s when the police come in. We watched one come in from one side, and another came in behind us. Two more followed him. The chanting turned to shame, we demanded that nothing further be done until the police left the room. When we asked the policeman beside us who had invited him in, he pointed at the staff person, but that was quickly denied. The police left, they apologised to us for entering, and then the staff apologised as well.
When we saw that the council were not going to seriously consider our request we left. In another little chat with the police on our way out, Inspector Dornan mentioned our ‘infantile leftist posturing’.
There was indeed a lot of posturing, but not by the members of the community. We’re just getting started in this struggle for our communties, our homes, and our lives, and looking forward to the full council meeting on February 23rd.
For more info go to the Lambeth Save Our Services Website