Tower Hamlets is facing £56 million in cuts in the coming year after the council voted against Labour amendments to the independent Mayor’s budget plan.
Councillors David Edgar and Helal Abbas did not manage to impose the changes to Mayor Luftur Rahman’s budget motion, as the amendment received 22 votes with 18 votes against and eight abstentions.
Labour did not succeed in securing £180,000 funding for after-school childcare provision or the proposed investment of £25,000 in children play projects.
The amendment also failed in reducing East End Light – a council-run freesheet newspaper – to a quarterly publication, a measure which would have helped save £200,000.
The proposed budget plan would have added 17 police officers to the Safer Neighbourhood Teams, replacing a current team of Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers who do not have as much legal power as police officers. This would have resulted in £205,000 savings over the next two years.
The council promised to deliver the Government’s cuts by maintaining frontline services and reducing layers of management, cutting agency staff, tougher deals with suppliers and by using fewer buildings among other measures.
A maximum of 50 members of the public were allowed into the chamber to attend the meeting, as a result of threatening behaviour and homophobic comments during a prior council meeting.
Mayor Luftur Rahman commented after the meeting: “Councillors, I along with my Cabinet, have had to wrestle with some difficult choices. There is a progressive majority in the Tower Hamlets Council chamber and in the wider community.
“This has meant that we have agreed a budget to safeguard key services like libraries, youth services and after schools facilities and we have also maintained our momentum in looking to build up to 4,000 affordable social rented homes.
“On top of this we are the only council in the country to not consider charging for homecare – this surely is something of which we can all justly be proud.”
Deputy Mayor Councillor Ohid Ahmed added: “Not only will we continue to employ Enforcement Officers who have done a great job in serving the public but we have agreed to support the funding of 21 police officers. We want residents to feel safe and this budget ensures that priority is reflected in our delivery.
“Whilst the cuts forced on us by central government will have some impact I believe we have fulfilled our core promise to protect the services that matter most to local people.”
The meeting was accompanied by a small-scale protest outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall. A local school teacher, who wished not to be named, said: “I think it’s obscene that in Tower Hamlets one third of all children live beneath the poverty line, while the bankers are getting a 50 per cent payrise this year.
“Public service workers are getting a pay freeze for the next three years and are losing their jobs. I cannot believe that councillors do not stand up for local people.”
Jackey Turner, 47, a GP, said: “I think the cuts are completely uneccesary. It’s supposedly a left-wing council putting through Tory cuts. There’s plenty of money, there’s billions of pounds of uncollected tax.
“I think it’s apalling, my children go to school here, I work in the NHS, so the cuts are going to affect everybody. It’s criminal, what they’re doing,” she added.