Protestors disrupted a crucial meeting at Lewisham Town Hall last night, at which Mayor Steve Bullock was due to introduce a programme of severe council budget cuts.
The meeting had to be adjourned for over thirty minutes after dozens of protestors packed out the cabinet chamber and shouted down the Mayor’s opening statements.
A council spokesperson said yesterday that, despite the disruption, the cabinet were able to complete the full agenda for the meeting. However, our correspondent says it was unclear to members of the public what had been proposed or decided, due to the noise and general disorder in the cabinet room.
Full details of the Mayor’s budgetary recommendations to the cabinet are due to be released today.
During the hiatus at last night’s meeting, the council and Mayor considered holding the meeting in private, or postponing it outright, East London Lines understands.
Proceedings descended into uproar only ten minutes in, after one protestor made an impassioned speech which referred to a growing national campaign against public service cuts.
The protestor, who asked not to be named, is a teacher from Deptford and a member of the Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance. He said he was demonstrating against the Government, who had made “a political and ideological decision to cut” and that “the poorest people will suffer because of it.” Referring to the massive student demonstration in central London last week, he called on people everywhere to fight cuts.
Mayor Steve Bullock appealed for calm during the prolonged disruption, saying “I ask for you to listen.” The crowded chamber responded to the Mayor with calls of “it would be better if you listened.”
Later in the meeting Mr Bullock received petitions from several groups campaigning to save local libraries and faced chants of “Cut Bullock not libraries.”
Police were called to oversee the departure of protestors from the building.
Lewisham Council is facing massive budget cuts after the Coalition significantly reduced local government funding in October’s comprehensive spending review. At least £60 million of cuts will have to be found over the next four years.
The bulk of an estimated 28% four-year local government funding cut will come in the year 2011/12, meaning that councils across the country are having to make drastic savings in the coming year.
Ahead of the meeting over a hundred people attended a rally outside the town hall, organised by the Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance, which comprises local branches of trade unions, community groups and students.
Speaking at the rally, Martin Powell-Davis, General Secretary of Lewisham NUT, said “We are saying to Labour councillors, they weren’t voted in to carry out Tory cuts. They should be joining us in a national campaign to fight the cuts.”
Other groups represented at the rally included the unions Unite and Unison, Lewisham People Before Profit and the Transport and General Workers Union. Campaigns to save five local libraries threatened by the cuts were also represented.
Jean Block, an employee of Blackheath Library, said she attended because she did not want to see the social role of libraries jeopardised by financial considerations. “We believe in libraries as a civilising part of society. It is the one public space that is socially inclusive”, Ms Block said. Her colleague, Anne Longrigg agreed, saying she believed libraries “should be free.”
Additional reporting by Heather Bishop, Chris Stevenson and Seb Wheeler