Hackney Greens call on council to delay children’s centre cuts ahead of budget showdown

Green councillors Alastair Binnie-Lubbock and Zoë Garbett. Photograph: Hackey Greens

Hackney’s Green councillors say they have found a way to “save” children’s centres from council cuts – as they set out their budget ideas ahead of a finance face-off at the Town Hall tonight.

The borough’s Labour-controlled council will be putting forward its own budget for the next year – the first under newly-elected mayor Caroline Woodley.

It contains plans for a council tax hike of almost five per cent, as well as millions of pounds of spending on building new council homes and improving existing ones.

There is also an investment of more than £85.4m on children’s centres, education support and the care system.

This comes amid a controversial consultation to restructure services at four children’s centres, with Fernbank and Sebright at risk of closure.

A campaign group led by parents has called the plans “absurd”, and hit out at the “baffling” consultation process.

Hackney Council’s head of early years, Donna Thomas, previously defended the potential restructure, saying “fewer children” have been born in Hackney than in previous years.

She said: “If we can realise that income [of £5 million], then we don’t need to do anything. I can come back at the end of the process and say, ‘We can keep these nurseries.’ But I don’t know that right now.”

Green councillors Zoë Garbett and Alastair Binnie-Lubbock believe they have a solution.

Their proposed budget changes include delaying some of the council’s larger capital works schemes, increasing charges for companies that use the borough as a filming location, and getting rid of three cabinet member posts – two mayoral advisors and a deputy mayor.

Garbett and Binnie-Lubbock say the savings from these measures, among others, would allow the council to postpone cuts to children’s centres and youth services for a year.

Garbett said: “Our amendment provides a way for Hackney’s Labour council to avoid carrying out some of the most impactful Conservative austerity cuts in this budget.

“In less than a year, we may well have a new government and new funding calculations. So we want to avoid Hackney Labour making unnecessary cuts now.”

She called on councillors to vote through the changes, adding: “This is a chance for the local administration to take responsibility and to show that they can do things differently.”

Binnie-Lubbock said: “We’ve listened to parents, families, unions and local groups and know how important children’s centres and youth services are and we’ve shown that they can be saved.”

Their amendments have received backing from parents and Hackney Unison, the largest trade union in the council’s workforce.

Parent and campaigner Natalie Aguilera said: “We are devastated to be here, once again, fighting to keep these vital services that offer a lifeline for many low-income families in particular, open.

“Parents and carers are angry and emotional about staff redundancies, and deeply anxious about the impact on their children, as well as the enormous difficulty of finding affordable childcare elsewhere.”

Matt Paul, Hackney Unison’s branch secretary, added: “We all should be concerned by these heavy but unsustainable and ill-founded cuts to essential community services such as children centres offering affordable childcare and youth services.”

He added: “The council should do everything they can – including possibly using funds from their significant reserves – to protect these services instead of simply passing on the Tory cuts.”

Other proposals in the Greens’ budget include creating an empty homes officer role at the council to “help address the housing supply crisis”, introducing a locality fund for each of the borough’s wards to pay for community projects, and a £100,000 creative arts grant programme for young people.

Hackney Mayor Caroline Woodley said: “The government’s slashing of public sector funding over the past 14 years has left local councils cut to the bone, and Hackney is no exception.

“Since 2010, we’ve suffered a 40 per cent real terms cut to our spending power that has left us in an extremely difficult position with hard choices before us.

“Thanks to the dedication of our officers, and the Labour values that have been the driving force of Hackney, we’ve been able to protect our essential services whilst remaining ambitious on tackling climate change and reducing poverty.

“The budget for the coming financial year enables us to continue to deliver a fairer, safer and greener Hackney for all our residents.”