Over £10m worth of cuts to spending on services for residents formed part of the budget passed by Hackney Council on Wednesday night (29 February).
The thrifty budget was the second to be rubberstamped since the government’s tough austerity measures were put in place.
Council tax was frozen for a seventh year, and Hackney’s mayor Jules Pipe insists no frontline services will be harmed and that the council is seeking to deliver the same services for less.
Most eye catching were cuts of £1.35m to spending on youth services. Last year’s cuts to youth services across the country are widely believed to have been one of the contributory factors to the August riots.
In presenting the budget, Mayor Pipe said: “The preparation of the 2012/13 Revenue budget and Capital programme has taken place against the backdrop for the second year of some of the most severe reductions in Central Government support to Local Government since the Second World War”.
“It is not possible for Hackney to escape the impact of the Government’s spending review. This budget, however, is the financial expression of this administration’s determination and commitment to shielding residents from the Government’s attack on the nation’s public services.”
Opposition party budget amendments included Conservative proposals to reduce council tax by an annual average of £20 per household through reductions in street maintenance, tree-planting and infrastructure. The Conservatives also proposed increased expenditure on the voluntary sector and care for the elderly.
Speaking for the Conservatives, Cllr Simche Steinberger said: ‘We are suggesting a two per cent cut. It’s about time we look to see what’s important to local people and adjust to that”.
The Liberal Democrat proposals also included increased funds for the voluntary sector, including youth and community centres, the Hackney Council for Older People and the Hackney Community Football Club.
In addition, the Liberal Democrats proposed a one-year scheme to provide 50 additional apprenticeships. To fund these they suggested a reduction in the frequency of street cleaning, reduction in the budgets for street maintenance and tree-planting, an increase in pay-and-display charges and parking permits, and abolition of neighbourhood forum meetings.
Speaking of the additional funding proposed for apprenticeships and youth services, Cllr Ian Sharer said: “What we’ve tried to do is in a small way address the causes of the riots”.
Both minority party amendments were rejected by the council.
Last year’s budget meeting attracted protesters angry at the prospect of spending cuts. In fact, the 2011-2012 budget allowed for approximately £10m more spending than the previous year, as the council was able to draw on its reserves, and cuts to spending on services were thus limited.
However, there were no significant protests at the prospect of cuts this year, despite the fact that the newly-agreed budget reductions may have a greater effect on the quality of services delivered./ 2 March, 2012