Hackney Council budget 2019: Labour accuses Tories of 'groundhog day' as they 'raise the same gripes as every year'
PUBLISHED: 11:27 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:24 01 March 2019
A heated exchange enlivened the Town Hall chamber this week as Hackney Council's budget for 2019-2020 was debated, with Labour accusing the Tory's criticisms of conjuring feelings of "groundhog day".
Philip Glanville told the packed council chamber at Hackney Town Hall how his third budget as mayor had been the “most difficult” ever, because of £30m of further cuts from central government, totalling £140m since 2010. This would not be helped by yet more expected cuts through the Fair Funding Review.
“Austerity is firmly not over for local government despite Teresa May’s proclamation,” he said, adding that “tough decisions needed to be made” - including increasing council tax by 4.9pc. A decision “not taken lightly”, but which would give an extra £3.8m for the challenges ahead.
Hackney’s five Tory opposition councillors then submitted two pages of A4 written submissions of amendments they wanted to see added to the budget.
It was like “groundhog day” according to the mayor, not differing much from proposals in years gone by, albeit with “slightly more detail”.
They included scrapping the Town Hall’s fortnightly rag Hackney Today, which the government is taking legal action against.
Tory councillor Simche Steinberger shared details of how their amendments had been put together: “Last night at 23:16 I got an email from Michael (Honeysett, Hackney’s finance director). I did get one later call from our birthday boy (former councillor) Christopher Sills, who helped us to do our budget,” he added. “If it was my 80th birthday I wouldn’t be at a council meeting. I would be celebrating at home with family - but you are so committed that you are here tonight,” he congratulated him.
The amendment was “not exactly an amendment”,” said Cllr Steinberger.
“There are many things in the budget we totally disagree with,” he said.
The thing he most had a gripe with was the one-way Oldhill Road “school streets” traffic calming scheme, which had made over £350,000 in revenue through traffic contraventions.
“It’s very clear that scheme is for one thing and that’s to take money,” he said.
Later deputy mayor Feryal Dermici pointed out the “contradictory” nature of the Tory’s proposals, which also saw calls to increase street crossing patrols.
“You talk about aiding traffic and the safety of our children on the roads, but then you talk about removing the Oldhill school scheme,” she said. “Before the scheme went in you had cars driving up on the pavement around the metal barriers outside the school. Around residents and children. It was a national embarrassment. The reason the scheme is there is for the protection of the children.”
Cllr Steinberger suggested more money could be made for the council’s coffers by renting out estate community halls more often, and through event hire.
“When I was kid most of the Jewish weddings were in Stoke Newington Town Hall, but there’s an issue that you have capped the number of people who can go in.”
Mr Glanville told him this was due to health and safety reasons.
Cllr Harvey Odze’s main bugbear was with the budget document’s “multiple mistakes”.
“This is a public document and what the people will judge us on, and we can’t get it right by proof reading it properly. On page 227, the heading says “2017 to 18” when it should be “19 to 20”. Someone swiped the excel page the wrong way.”
He defended his party’s national budget.
“Governments must operate on a higher plane and help economies, and provide assistance to third world countries,” he said. “This year we are sending £200m in aid to help Yemen. This is absolutely the right thing to do.
The Tories also pushed for a commitment to not reduce support for children with special educational needs (SEN).
“I notice the bullet point about SEN cuts,” said Mayor Glanville. “I hope he’s on the phone to the Prime Minister tomorrow, on how their cuts have impacted on the children in Hackney. We are pumping in an extra £7m for SEN cuts.”
Another Tory suggestion was to fund social care with the money saved by ending ward forums.
“There’s a £2.2bn gap in social care funding, so how many ward forums are we talking about abolishing?” asked Cllr Dermici.
Hackney Speaker and chair of the meeting, Clare Potter, told councillors to state clearly one-by-one whether they were ‘for’ the budget, ‘against’ or ‘abstaining’.
Predictably it was voted through by Labour, which holds 52 of the 57 seats on the council. The Tories’ amendments were voted down.
Cllrs Steinberger, Levy and Odze opposed the budget and Cllrs Aron Klein and Benzion Papier had already gone home, presumably put off by the futility of it all.
“It’s carried,” announced the Speaker, amid cheers from most of the room.