This is the speech I gave at the Council’s budget-setting meeting last night. The meeting was held in private after a group of protesters – some of them genuinely concerned residents, but some of them left-wing agitators – stormed the council chamber. I do, of course, share people’s anger over the Government-imposed cuts, but I do not condone behaviour that disrupts the democratic process. Deputations of residents who turned up were denied the chance to speak, and councillors were denied the chance to explain how we have protected frontline services from Government-imposed funding cuts. Because I wasn’t able to give the speech in public I am publishing it here.
Before the General Election Nick Clegg said cutting public spending too early would risk “pulling out the carpet from under the feet” of the British economy.
Speaking about early cuts he said “merrily slashing now is an act of economic masochism. If any party had to rely on our support and we were involved in government, of course we would say no.”
But he didn’t say no. He said yes.
He also said yes to breaking his pledge on tuition fees, breaking his pledge not to raise VAT, breaking his pledge to stop all bankers’ bonuses for two years.
All those Lib Dem leaflets we saw in Lambeth, not one of them said they were going to cut 70% off housing repairs, or 60% off rebuilding schools, or end secure tenancies, or treble rents, or cut one in every three pounds this council has to spend.
I have little doubt those decisions will rebound on the Liberal Democrats. But far more importantly, they will cause real pain to people living up and down this borough.
You can argue all you like about who caused this situation – the previous Government, or a global banking crisis that hit every major industrialised economy in the Western World. They talk today about overspending, but when the Tories and Liberals ran this council they used to complain that their funding increases weren’t big enough, they never once complained there was too much spending. But wherever you stand, is it fair for this Tory-led Government to pay down the debt by targeting the poorest people in the poorest parts of our country? Places like Lambeth?
This council will do whatever we can to protect the most vulnerable people in our borough from these Tory-Lib Dem cuts. But there will be no going back to the 1980s, no illegal budgets. That failed in the past. We won’t run up the white flag by refusing to set a budget and let Eric Pickles send in his administrators to make far deeper cuts that would hit people in this borough even harder.
Instead we will set a budget that seeks to protect the most vulnerable, keep people safe, and invest in better homes, better schools and help to get people back to work.
Above all, we will cut costs before cutting services. That’s why, despite a £37m funding reduction from the Govt this year, only £1m services face closure. That’s £1m too much, but the fact it’s not far worse is because this council has protected the front line.
I understand and I share people’s anger. But this council will behave responsibly because that is the best way to protect as many services and as many people as possible.
This is not a budget we wanted, but it is the best we can do in these dreadful circumstances that have their origin far beyond Lambeth town hall.