Thursday, 10 February 2011

Protect public services!

These are dark days in Lambeth. The Council is facing an £80 million cut over three years in its funding from central government. On Monday, the cabinet presented next year’s budget for the borough. It’s brutal.

The damage includes

  • Scrapping Lambeth’s excellent park ranger service
  • Scrapping the school crossing patrols which current serve 24 schools
  • Cutting cleaning and maintenance of our streets and estates
  • Closing public toilets
  • Withdrawing freedom passes for adults with mental health problems
  • Reducing all council services, including parks, libraries, waste management and noise nuisance services
  • The loss of up to 1,000 jobs

Labour did spectacularly well in this area in May’s local elections, primarily because this is a community that cares about old-fashioned concepts such as social justice and the imperative to care for the least well-off, and – in their ignorance in my view – many voters felt that Labour was the party most likely to meet these demands. Well, now we all need to hold Labour to account and make sure they stand up for these values.

Everyone accepts the administration is in a difficult position, but nevertheless there are choices, and the ones being made are not good ones. First, the Labour group is reverting to its characteristic unilateralism. We need the public to be involved in informed debate, yet Labour’s efforts at ‘consultation’ have been characteristically vacuous, with all key decisions being made in private.

It is a revealing insight into Labour’s attitudes locally that the only service that they’re seeking to protect is the police – sure, crime’s an issue in these parts, but aren’t jobs, schools, care services and a clean environment at least as important?

Rather than cutting vital services and precious jobs the Council could make savings by:

  • Cutting senior pay for top council executives
  • Reducing the millions spent on expensive private-sector consultants
  • Cutting down on glossy PR and council spin
  • Reducing council fuel bills by making our schools, libraries and other buildings more energy efficient
  • Working more closely with other public sector bodies to cut admin costs

Social care should be prioritised. That’s our red line. The Greens would make no cuts that reduced care for older people, people with mental illnesses, children and other vulnerable people. We would also not dispose of assets such as community centres and libraries, which we will never be able to buy back. It’s better to run on a shoe-string for a while.

A broad campaign against these cuts is well underway. You can sign the petition to protect our park rangers here

, and at 4pm on Friday 11th February there’ll be a sit-in protest in Herne Hill to save our lollipop men and women.

The next big demonstration will be outside the full council meeting in Brixton on the evening of 23rd February – do try to make it. Check out Lambeth Save our Services for up-to-date information.

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