Protesters disrupt budget meeting at town hall

There were angry scenes at Hackney Town Hall last night as protesters tried to prevent the finalisation of budget cut proposals.

Despite their attempts to disrupt the meeting, the council confirmed that cuts of £44m would be made in the next year, creating a massive impact on public sector services in one of London’s most deprived boroughs.

Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe was delivering his response to the budget cuts in the town hall when members of public started shouting at him from the public gallery. Councillors then decided to leave the meeting because of the disturbances.

After the council threatened to hold the meeting behind closed doors if protesters did not quieten down, the meeting continued.

Mayor Pipe defended the Labour majority council’s decision to go ahead with the budget cut.

The speaker repeatedly told the public gallery to quieten down as Mayor Pipe spoke about the budget.

He reassured the council that he was acting with Hackney’s best interest at heart,  describing the cuts from central government as “ideological”. He blamed the coalition government for failing to insure a better future for Hackney.

He was repeatedly interrupted by protesters in the public gallery who shouted “Why are voting for the cuts? All we hear are excuses” and chanted “Shame on you for turning blue.”

100 protesters also gathered outside to oppose the budget cuts. An anti- cuts demonstration took place on Mare Street, causing some buses to be diverted.

Inside the town hall, Conservative councillor Benzion Papier said: “The rainy days have come. We are not talking about cutting the public services, we are trying to protect them.”

Much of the anger was directed at the Labour councillors. Many protesters felt they did not go far enough in opposing the cuts. At one point Labour councillor Luke Akehurst came under fire by protesters for tweeting during the meeting. It emerged that he had posted a tweet calling demonstrating locals “trot chumps”.

He said: “It is important to use social media, I am only trying to let the people outside know what is going on in here.”

A member of the public gallery replied: “You should be concentrating on the budget and standing by your principles instead of tweeting insults about us.”

Some Labour councillors have vocally opposed the council’s decision to implement cuts. Six Labour councillors, including Ian Rathbone, Linda Kelly and Deniz Oguzkanli, issued a statement on the Hackney Alliance website before last night’s meeting calling on Hackney Council to refuse the cuts. They stated that they would “support a campaign to defeat the policies of this government through public protest, opposition and defiance.”

They added: “We would like to see local Councils across London leading the charge and refusing to adopt cuts budgets as a result of government enforced policies.”

It later emerged that the six councillors voted for budget cuts at last night’s meeting.

The main protest, organised by Hackney Alliance, took place before the meeting. Hackney Alliance is an umbrella organisation including trade unions, political parties, voluntary organisations and individual members.

Protestor Brian Willcox said: “I am here to protests against the cuts being made in Hackney. Some of the cuts are going to affect my kids and their school. It is going to affect the leisure activities they might engage in.”

Another protester Adam John Whiffing said: “The cuts are going to affect ordinary working class people like me. I would not want this to happen again, but if the cuts go through then it is very likely that it will happen again.”

He added: “”This reminds me of early 80s when lots of people were unemployed and very depressed. It induced the high levels of crime and violence and it led to more people suffering from mental illnesses.”

Student Jane Baker, said: “I live in a local council estate and the cuts are going to affect my family, my neighbours and me. And most importantly they are going to affect the atmosphere in my estate and the whole of Hackney.”

In the past few days, Croydon and Lewisham budget meetings have seen fierce opposition by local residents.

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