“It’s worse than we feared” says Mayor, as Lewisham confirms first wave of cuts amid protests

An “unprecedented” £16m programme of cuts is to be implemented in Lewisham over the next four years, the Mayor, Steve Bullock, confirmed on Thursday.

The confirmation of the extensive cuts – which are predicted to hit mothers and the unemployed hardest – followed the disruption at Wednesday night’s council meeting when angry protestors surrounded Sir Steve and his cabinet. The meeting ended in uproar.

It was not until Thursday afternoon that the council confirmed that, amid the confusion, it had agreed the first tranche of savings of £11.8m in the next financial year and a total of £16.3m by 2014.

A further £16m will be considered in February next year as the council seeks to find a total of £60m to be cut from its overall £192m budget – reflecting a 30 per cent cut in Government funding, announced in last months Comprehensive Spending Review.

Lewisham said the scale of the cutbacks was ‘’unprecedented’’ and was more than double the level of savings the council has been faced with over the past three years.

Sir Steve said: “We are at the beginning of the most difficult time faced by local government as we face up to the Government’s decision to cut local government budgets by almost 30 per cent over the next four years.

“As further details of the Government’s decisions have become available, it has also become clear to me that as a result of the overall total cut being imposed upon us and the “front loading” of them, the cuts needed next year are likely to exceed even our most pessimistic assumptions.

“There is still some way to go and I need to consider some of the proposals in greater detail but I believe that we have made a sound start to this challenging process.”

Lewisham’s all-Labour cabinet attempted to distance itself from blame over the cuts last night, saying that it had been forced into “carrying out the government’s dirty work”.

Cllr Paul Maslin slammed the “unnecessary austerity” of the Coalition government, adding that “common sense had not prevailed,” in Westminster. He also pointed the finger at “poor decisions in the private sector.”

Last night’s meeting heard appeals from campaigners against cuts to specific services. Three groups seeking to save libraries threatened with closure presented petitions to the Mayor, who maintained his stance of deferring all library decisions until next year in hopes of finding an alternative solution.

Representatives of the free employment service Opening Doors were less successful, with the Mayor upholding the decision to close their services.

A blow was also dealt to mothers of children under five, with the decision to close the Amersham Early Childhood Centre, one of just four in the borough. The decision was partly based on the centre receiving a less glowing report from Ofsted than the other three centres. The proposal affirmed that local childminders could fill the void, but during the consultation one parent said: “I would rather stay at home on benefits than leave my child with a childminder.”

Plans for the Council’s estimated £60m budget reduction began in February this year, prior to the general election in May. Earlier this summer, the Mayor and Cabinet launched an investigation into potential areas where Council spending could be cut. The results of this analysis were presented to the Cabinet in a report last night, resulting in the approved spending cuts.

According to the Council’s proposals to the Mayor, “broadly 60%” of the main phase of cuts “are back office”, with reductions to management costs. The Cabinet acknowledged that some frontline services will have to go. The proposal states that “the scale of the problem is such that it has not been entirely feasible for officers to put forward budget savings proposals that do not have some impact on frontline services.

ELL TV spoke to Lewisham People Before Profit’s Ray Woolford, to get his views ahead of Wednesday’s cuts meeting:

Video content by Elisabetta Ferrero and Philip Saunders

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