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LEWISHAM: Cuts approved as jeers and heckles break up council meeting
AROUND £16.3m in cuts were recommended for approval last night amid relentless jeers and heckles from angry protestors.
Lewisham Council’s mayor and cabinet meeting had to be adjourned for half an hour as anti-cuts campaigners packed into the chamber and drowned out the discussions.
Councillors discussed holding the crunch meeting behind closed doors but eventually resumed to applause and sarcastic cheers from the audience.
Cabinet member for resources Councillor Paul Maslin had begun to introduce the cuts but was heckled from the start before a chorus of people began chanting “No ifs, no buts, no Lewisham cuts”.
As director of resources Janet Senior began speaking one campaigner let more people into the chamber and, amid chaotic scenes, one man stood up and shouted: “Remember Millbank last week?
“This is naked class war.”
After a half-hour break, the meeting resumed but the heckles continued and protestors began banging on the walls.
Leader of Lewisham Lib Dems Councillor Chris Maines was booed and branded “yellow Tory scum” while Mayor Sir Steve Bullock was greeted with: “Cut Bullock not libraries.”
But in a decision that could barely be heard over the din, Sir Steve approved almost all the cuts officers had asked him to consider.
It included starting consultation on the closure of Amersham Early Years Centre, reducing foster care costs by £150,000 and slashing the school improvement team by 18 posts.
Despite an appeal by representatives of employment service Opening Doors, the council’s funding to it is also set to be cut.
Elsewhere, up to 21 community wardens could go, though Sir Steve agreed to keep an existing office on the Honor Oak estate in the short term while needs there are addressed.
Decisions over the possible closure of five libraries and charging residents to replace their wheelie bins have been deferred until the new year.
Speaking to News Shopper, Sir Steve revealed that further changes are likely to include shrinking the council from five directorates to four.
And he admitted the threatened libraries were “very unlikely” to continue in their current form.
He said: “The scale of the challenge is unprecedented and represents more than double the level of savings the council has been faced with over the past three years.”
But, in some rare good news, Sir Steve did say that Blackheath fireworks was unlikely to be affected.
He said: “I haven’t got any choice - they’re going to have to carry on.
“If we can go on finding a sponsor then I think we go on with it.”
Next week, Lewisham Council is set to approve £16m of the recommended cuts, while work on a second phase of cost-cutting is expected to begin in January.