The Independent London Newspaper

 

‘Face prison rather than make cuts’

Jeremy Corbyn, left, suggested ways to reduce the country’s £113bn deficit

Union rep tells councillors that they should make a stand to resist spending reduction

Published: 8 October, 2010
by TERRY MESSENGER

COUNCILLORS have been urged to suffer prison rather than reduce services or make staff redundant in Islington.

The call was made at a public meeting staged to launch the borough’s anti-cuts campaign.

Bus workers’ trade union rep Paul Brandon urged Islington’s Labour council to lead a campaign of mass resistance to spending reductions imposed by the Coalition government.

They should refuse to co-operate with the government, even if it meant breaking the law and suffering the consequences.

To cheers, the Holloway bus garage Unite rep told a packed meeting: “There are councillors in this room and I’d like to see if they would commit themselves to going to prison.

“And this campaign would start backing them if they were prepared to make that sort of commitment.”

Council leader Catherine West, who also addressed the meeting, made no comment on the suggestion – but the borough’s environment chief objected strongly.

Councillor Paul Smith said: “If I went to prison, on the same day, a Tory administrator would come in and cut council housing, cut free school meals and cut everything good that we’re doing.”

There were repeated calls for unity at the meeting in the Methodist Church Hall, Archway, on Tuesday, to launch Islington Hands Off Our Public Services (IHOOPS).

But it was clear that there is a huge divide between ruling Labour councillors, who are prepared to reduce services while “protecting the vulnerable”, and left-wing activists in pressure groups and trade unions, who are implacably opposed to almost any reductions in services.

The Government is expected to reduce Islington’s budget by £100m over the next four years – a cut of around a third in cash available to spend on services, according to Cllr West.

Nevertheless, to rapturous applause, Professor Alex Callinicoss told the meeting: “Once you concede to the necessity of cuts, it’s much harder to resist the attack that’s going to come from the Con-Dem coalition.

“Every job, every service, every sector, every hospital, every ward should be defended.

“It’s through that kind of very determined action that we will defeat these terrible attacks on us.”

Cllr. West said a strategy was being devised to make the cuts as painless as possible.

She said: “The focus of that is to develop some proposals around which we are going to try and protect, if we can, the most vulnerable people.”

She cited cuts in councillors’ allowances and the formation of a joint Camden and Islington top management team as examples of practical measures to reduce spending without harming services.

She said: “We need unity here. We need to fight together. Give us a chance to try and make things different. And we’ll stand behind you.”

Although her appeal was received politely, most speakers at the meeting called for fierce resistance rather that her policy of pragmatic accommodation.

The borough’s Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry urged all sides to blame the banking industry and the Government for the looming crisis.

Mr. Corbyn said money could be found to rid Britain of its £113bn deficit by closing tax loopholes, imposing the “Tobin Tax” on City transactions, pulling out of Afghanistan and scrapping Trident.

Cllr West was presented with a petition urging her to save the threatened Sotheby Mews Day Centre for older people in Highbury. 

She said Labour had no plans to sell off the building as is feared by centre users – although Sotheby’s future is under review as the council prepares its spending plans.

Teacher’s cutting comments

A SPECIAL needs teacher, who received a redundancy notice this week, brought home the reality of public service spending cuts in Islington.

Carole Newman was told her job with a team helping vulnerable pupils was being axed. She is among 41 teachers and support staff due to lose their jobs with Cambridge Education, a private provider of school services to the borough.

Ms Newman, who leads a small team of special needs teachers, told the borough’s anti-cuts campaign launch meeting: “We work with some of the most vulnerable, socially excluded people in Islington.

“We work in schools with children who are at risk of exclusion. We work to keep them in school. We work with teachers and staff to help them understand some of the difficulties. We work with families and try to build bridges between the school and the families.” She added: “To say we are surplus to need is quite an insult.”

Cambridge Education’s slogan is Every Child Matters. Ms Newman observed: “Every child doesn’t matter and certainly children who are excluded, families who are already living in very deprived situations, they don’t matter and that’s how I feel at the moment.”

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