Final budget proposals passed by Lewisham and Croydon councils despite fierce opposition

Lewisham and Croydon Council have both approved budget cuts of tens of millions of pounds as part of their plans to implement government efficiency savings.

The majority Labour council at Lewisham yesterday agreed to cut £33m over one year, saving a total of £88m over the next three years. This will take its budget to £281m.

At the meeting this morning councillors agreed on increases to nursery charges, the reduction of local assembly grants, cuts to home care support for the elderly and the closure of five libraries within the borough, amongst other cost saving measures.

One measure agreed today is that the chief executive of Labour majority council, Barry Quirk, will move from a full time to part time post – a move that will save £80,000 a year.

Announcing the cuts, Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock said: “I take no pleasure in passing this budget at all.”

Tony Reay, regional secretary for the Public and Commercial Services union said: “Lewisham Council don’t communicate with Lewisham residents. The decision to close the libraries was made before consultation with locals. The council have a reserve of £20m in the bank, why can’t they spend it? Are they waiting for a rainy day? Because it’s pouring pretty hard right now.”

The meeting was changed at the last minute from an evening time slot to 10am due to ‘police advice’ on public safety fears.

A meeting last November, which saw the first round of cuts laid out, was disrupted by angry protesters.

Although in much smaller numbers, protesters were still present today at Catford Town Hall carrying a coffin and tombstones. They staged a ‘funeral’ mourning the loss of public services.

Sir Steve asked the councillors to refrain from clapping and cheering when the cuts were passed.

Writing on Twitter, Kevin Bonavia, Labour councillor for Blackheath, called today’s budget cuts a ‘damage limitation job to our public services’.

The budget cuts were passed with 35 councillors in favour, eight against and two councillors who abstained from voting.

Today’s budget meetings follow Croydon council’s confirmation of £70m of cuts over the next 3 years.

Care services, building costs and back-office spending were amongst the cuts agreed at the meeting last night.

Council proposals confirmed include the loss of 310 council jobs, a freeze in council tax until next year, £700,000 cut from its street cleaning budget and a £1 million budget for local groups and charities that help the elderly.

The proposal to close six of Croydon’s libraries has been deferred until July after 20,000 members of the public protested the closure of six libraries in the area. The council will review the system and look for alternative funding.

Budgets for youth services and the arts have been cut by over £28,000, causing concern for youth groups in the area.

Labour opposition leader Tony Newman said that Labour’s budget proposals would put “a lot of emphasis on protecting the young people of the borough.”

Labour’s alternative proposal plans also included scrapping Your Croydon – a local newspaper for community information and putting off plans to collect food waste to help save money for youth groups and voluntary organisations.

Newman commented on the cuts saying: “We accept the council has had the biggest ever cut in its funding and has been put in a difficult position by the coalition but we don’t think shortcuts and panic is the way to run Croydon.”

The Conservative council clapped when the budget was passed by 36 votes to 32.

Additional reporting by Nikki Allan.

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