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Posted on 13 March 2011 at 14:48 GMT

Labour imposes a 'Tory budget' in Waltham Forest

On Tuesday 8 March Waltham Forest Labour councillors attempted to do their dirty deeds in secret. When the anti-cuts union in this north-east London borough led 100 protesters on a lively 'pavement walk' from the town square to the town hall we were met with the incredible scene of barricades around the town hall steps.

Kevin Parslow

Even the police apologised to us, saying they had argued against this. Despite the barriers, elderly and disabled people, music service children and council workers positioned themselves at various entrances and managed to challenge councillors as they tried to sneak in.

In a travesty of democracy, most of the protesters were then refused entry to the public gallery, despite there being spare places. Astonishingly, councillors had attempted to fill the seats with friends and family! These cowards couldn't even look their electorate in the eye when they voted to destroy jobs and services.

"We won't be voting on either Labour's proposals or the Liberal Democrat amendment as we believe the Labour group are proposing many of the things we have been suggesting for years" said Conservative group leader Matt Davis, letting the cat out of the bag - Labour was proposing a Tory budget!

And what a budget: 29.5 million of 'savings' this year out of a total of 65 million in four years.

And having lost their amendment, the Liberal Democrats abstained too on the substantive motion - so not one councillor opposed the most vicious attacks on services in the borough for years!

There was no real debate in the chamber - some councillors seemed keener to move the motion be put and maybe get to the bar or watch the football on the TV - and the meeting was over in 90 minutes; a far cry from some council meetings in the past which suspended standing orders and went on past midnight!

But there was debate between the public gallery and the council chamber, with anti-cuts union members demanding that the councillors specify where the axe would land, and the Mayor losing the battle for 'order'.

Do the councillors expect us only to protest quietly?

Labour councillors kept saying that they were protecting the most vulnerable, yet a whole tranche of youth services - Connexions, the Behaviour Support Team, the Educational Welfare Service, the Youth Offending Team - are being cut or axed completely.

And why was the lobby of the budget-setting meeting on 8 March attended by a number of wheelchair-bound disabled people if their services were not under attack?

Labour tried to blame the Con-Dem government for the financial difficulties but Labour did not have to put through the cuts; they could have set a needs-based budget.

The Liberal Democrat amendment broadly supported Labour's budget but made a populist attack on councillors' allowances (which their councillors have benefited from, including while in the cabinet until last year!) while also proposing a greater reduction in the subsidy that helps trade unions to represent their members.

One councillor even regretted that the unions had not put forward an alternative budget, presumably containing cuts. But why should we do their dirty work? Union officers are too busy right now in defending union members who are worried sick about their futures; 600 employees will lose their jobs as a result of these cuts.

Already opposition is beginning to hot up in the workforce with reports of library workers unhappy at losing space in libraries to Waltham Forest Direct, the one-stop shops for benefits and service advice, which is seeing three offices close.

This is not the end of the battle, only the beginning.

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