Packed meeting pledges to fight the Coalition cuts

Thursday, 15th July 2010

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Published: 15 July, 2010
by RICHARD OSLEY and TOM FOOT

THE Town Hall has unveiled a plan aimed at softening the blow of the coalition government’s unprecedented demands for cuts.

Labour councillors want to save cash by teaming up with other local authorities and sharing services, external contracts and possibly “back office” staff.

This attempt to patch up the council’s finances – a  £100million funding hole is forecast over the next four years – will, however, include some compulsory redundancies among council staff and 270 posts will be axed.

Camden’s initial ideas were unveiled this week just as councillors, unions and residents banded together at a “fightback” meeting at the Town Hall on Monday night.

There was talk there  of forming a “coalition of the Left” to campaign against slashing of government funding by the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition.

Camden’s cabinet will discuss a medium-term strategy next week but has already drawn up plans aimed at easing the crisis.

These include the possible resource-sharing plan with other boroughs and Labour leaders of Islington, Haringey and Hackney met up with the Camden leadership on Monday to discuss their options.

Camden will also try to save cash by encouraging people to cross what Labour members are calling the “digital divide”, asking residents to deal with the council wherever possible over the internet to save the labour and administrative costs of face to face transactions. There are plans to make help available for people to get more web-savvy and funding for open-to-all UK Online computer centres will be reviewed.

Other measures include scrutinising the use of consultants and a possible attempt to raise money by reviewing its £1billion property portfolio. Council homes are not for sale under the new adminstration but commercial buildings and unwanted offices could be. Twice weekly rubbish collections will be cut to one.

Council tax, however, will remain frozen.

Labour’s finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell said of talks with other authorities:  “It was a bit of a historic meeting. I’m surprised it hasn’t been done in the past. We could work together in lots of ways. You could have shared contracts in education or parking. It makes sense to start with working with councils that have similar values to ours.”

Camden must also resolve what it will do with the Town Hall annexe building in King’s Cross which was listed for sale under the last administration.

Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors said it was time for Labour to “grow up” and stop shifting the blame to national politicians.

Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Mennear said: “I’ve always said it makes perfect sense to share resources with other boroughs but we should be choosing to work with other top authorities like Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea – not authorities which historically have been not so good.”

Lib Dem leader Councillor Keith Moffitt said the council would “find it hard to implement some of these changes because of Labour’s obvious close links with the unions. The efficiency savings ultimately do mean posts being cut and you may say that frontline services won’t be affected but staff will find it hard if they are worried about their jobs”.

A more in-depth prognosis about where cuts in spending will fall, however, is not due until October when the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government will publish more detail on how far local authorities will be funded.

Campaigners crammed inside the Town Hall on Monday night said they would fight the onslaught of government-ordered cuts.

The meeting heard speeches from teachers, post men, transport workers, council and NHS workers, tenant leaders, Somalian voluntary groups, Labour politicians Frank Dobson MP, former council leader Raj Chada, deputy council leader Cllr Angela Mason and the human rights lawyer Imran Khan.

Strikes, protests and rallies will dominate the political landscape as a united resistance builds, the meeting heard.

Camden Trades Council chairman George Binette said: “Those who voted Lib Dem – they have had a rude awakening. The Lib Dems proved more dangerous than the Orange Dutch team in the World Cup final. Poorer people will be hit far harder than the rich. It is an unprecedented assault against the workforce.”

Frank Dobson said: “Vince Cable said the tax changes benefited the least well off – well he must know that’s a lie. Most of the Tories are salivating at the prospect of having a go at the public sector and franchising out to crappy, thieving outfits. If you think the private sector is doing a good job – look at the banks."

Andrew Baisley, secretary of Camden branch of National Union of Teachers, accused Education Secretary Michael Gove of adopting a “Thatcherite zeal” in tearing apart Labour’s building projects in Camden. At least 13 schools are having planned schemes scrapped and schools are facing a cut of 20 per cent to their spending budgets.

He said: “I do not remember any of this before the election. There is no mandate.”

And Raj Chada, chairman of the constituency Labour Party, said claims the NHS funding was ringfenced was a “myth”. He said: “We need to build a coalition of the Left – we may fall out, but we must be fighting this together this dreadful Thatcherite Government in Lib Dem clothing.”

Silla Carron, who lives in Clarence Way, is fighting cuts to caretakers on Camden estates. She said: “I’m going to get them back, because I’m an outright bitch and that’s how I work.”

Cuts to housing benefit, she said, was a “disgrace”. “People don’t know what they’ve got until they get together. It’s time we stood up and shouted together.”

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