Stop the Cuts: Report from Tower Hamlets Town Hall

24 Feb

Last night budget setting meetings took place at Tower Hamlets and Lambeth Town Halls. Councilors from all parties or no parties were presented budgets that show the biggest attack on livelihoods and living standards for decades, and had the chance to rebel and vote against these.

Our night at Tower Hamlets Town Hall began with finding the hidden metropolis, tucked away, practically next door to Canary Warf. Security was hefty. Metal barriers and plenty of Police. We queued to get into the public gallery, alongside about 60 other people.  The march organised by Hands Off Our Public Services Tower Hamlets (HOOPS) that had started at the mural in honour of Poplar’s rebel councillors of the 1920s arrived chanting loudly. The queue to get in swelled significantly until the public gallery was full and some had to be turned away.

Most of those queuing were allowed in, bags searched, names given, code of conducts read. Others in the queue were turned away on the grounds that they were suspected of having disrupted a previous meeting. One person was turned away because they were seen speaking to someone who disrupted a previous meeting!

Just over 100 members of the public squeezed into the waiting area with about another 100 outside.

We got in and took our seats. It became increasingly clear that the majority of people in the room were supporters of the Mayor Lutfur Rahman, with no more than a dozen anti-cuts protesters. Rahman is a controversal figure who, due to Tower Hamlets mayoral system, has massive amounts of power within the council. A former member of the Labour Party who was not selected as their Mayoral candidate, he stood anyway and won. It was Rahman’s budget plan that the meeting would amend and vote on. His supporters had turned out to ensure that it went through. It’s strange that he seems almost to be hailed as a local hero for heralding in the Con-Dem Government’s cuts in Tower Hamlets. Back in December he was quoted in East London Lines paper as saying,

 I am here to demonstrate my support for you as the Mayor of Tower Hamlets. The cuts of some £75-80 million…over the next three or four years will devastate our community. What I can assure you is this; I whole-heartedly condemn the current cuts. I do not accept the current cuts.

Is this the same man we saw at the council meeting who personally put the cuts budget together and who said it wouldn’t be so bad? We are a long way from the rebellion of the 1920s here. All councillors (except those from the Tory party) were quick to highlight how much they didn’t want to make these cuts, but in the interests of supporting local people they were going to tinker with the edges. Weird logic.

At the start of the meeting, we received news via text of the town hall take-over in Lambeth. We shouted the news so all in the gallery could hear. At that point it certainly didn’t seem likely that anything on that scale could happen where we were.

The meeting chugged along. Bureaucratic, boring and painful. Rahman’s supporters heckled anyone speaking against the Mayor or his budget. The anti-cuts protesters heckled the budget and amendment presentations that claimed that no ‘frontline services’ would be affected and that actually, despite the millions of pounds of money gone, life may not only not change for the worse but in some cases they  even claimed life would get better; ‘DELUSIONAL’ came shouts from the crowd. I got the impression that these councillors were very focused on their careers and less so on the best way to protect the people of their borough from these attacks. The Tory proposal was accompanied by finger-pointing at the Labour Party and lots of smugness. They even found space to prioritise in 2 speeches, their outrage at the cost of pot plants in the borough. The amount they spoke about pot plants anyone would think they were keen to help people overlook all of the other things that will be cut and/or lost entirely under the banner of increased efficiency. The heckling continued. Warnings were given. Some were asked to leave.

The budget and amendments had been presented. Now there would be a debate amongst councillors and then an adjournment. All of a sudden the Chair of Council changed his mind and called an adjournment before the debate. Adjournment announced, the head of security was requesting a word with 3 us. We were told to leave. If we were not willing to walk out then the police would be brought in. The meeting would not start again until we left. We discussed it between us. After spending a fair while weighing up the pros and cons we left. It was getting late and it didn’t look like a vote was going to take place anyway.

A vote didn’t happen. A councillor accused a member of the public, one of Rahman’s supporters, of threatening them. The accused refused to leave and so the meeting was called to an end. Another meeting will have to be scheduled. According to the Tower Hamlets Council website,

If the budget cannot be agreed at the meeting, the mayor and his cabinet must reconsider the proposals within five days. A second budget meeting will then be needed (provisionally scheduled for 8 March) and a budget must be agreed by 10 March.

Look out for a confirmation of the date and get down there if you can.

In Hackney, Saturday 19th Feb saw 700 people take to the streets, despite the rain ahead of the council vote there. Check out this video from the day

The budget setting meeting is happening this Wednesday night 2nd March in Hackney. Be at the town hall for 6.30pm. We’ll be there in our 100s and 1000s. There are Hackney councillors publicly pledging to vote against the budget. We can really put up a fight to defend our services in Hackney.

The view from Hackney today looked hopeful…

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One Response to “Stop the Cuts: Report from Tower Hamlets Town Hall”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Cuts, Chimps and Outrage: Report from Hackney Town Hall « Fool's Prints - March 3, 2011

    […] last night saw Hackney take it’s turn. After the strange politicking that took place at the Tower Hamlet’s Council meeting the week before, and the 700 strong march in  Hackney several weekends ago, I was sure there would […]

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