Demonstrators protest outside Wandsworth town hall as council agree this year's budget
Protesters gathered outside the town hall for the second council meeting in a row to show their continuing concern over cuts to services in the borough.
Members of the GMB union, Wandsworth Against The Cuts (Wac) and the Battersea and Wandsworth Trade Union Council (BWTUC) spoke out against the Conservative led council as councillors entered the town hall for the monthly full council meeting on March 9 which agreed this year's council budget.
Jack Farmer, Chairman of Wac, told the gathered crowd: “This is a war on the poor and a war on the working class.
“Lets make sure that the council know there is an opposition and that it is going to be growing.”
Afterwards, he told the Wandsworth Guardian: “The level of anger is so powerful at the moment, so we are going to see an explosion. I think the council are starting to get worried.”
Spencer Barnshaw, secretary of BWTUC, said: “We are here just to remind them that we do not believe what they are doing is right and not productive in any way at all.”
The anger of the public was such that two people were ejected from the public gallery on the mayor’s orders, after they interrupted the meeting on numerous occassions with disgusted outbursts.
The council's budget was agreed by councillors for the coming year at £202m and council tax rates were also frozen for the fourth year running, with the average household paying £687 a year.
Service budgets reductions (from last year's budgets) include a £3.78m cut to adult care and health, a £3.55 cut to education and children’s services and a £940,000 cut to environment, culture and community services, to help to achieve £55m savings over the next four years.
These will impact on the opening hours in most of the borough’s libraries and the possible closure of York Gardens library, unless a proposed Big Society volunteering initiative to keep it open is successful.
It will also mean the re-organisation of the way adult care is provided and charged for, along with staffing cuts in the children’s services and finance and corporate resources departments.
Wandsworth Council leader Councillor Edward Lister said: “Wandsworth’s costs per head are the lowest in the country.
“This is a highly efficient and highly organised council. Some other councils are in another world to us.”
Political point scoring between the two parties over the impact of the cuts and who was to blame was rife.
Councillor Maurice Heaster said: “The difficulties we face are due to the previous Labour government. We are going to have to tackle harsh problems over the next few years.”
Labour councillor Mark Thomas spoke out against what he called the Tory policy of drastic cuts.
He said: “Its obvious the cuts we have seen so far in Wandsworth are just the beginning. There’s no need to cut this hard and this fast.”
But Coun Lister said: “What a load of rubbish we have been listening to tonight from our friends on the other side of the chamber.
“If anybody wants to blame anybody for this, then you should point your fingers at Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.”