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Camden New Journal - by RICHARD OSLEY
Published: 22 February 2007
  Kilburn Grange protesters, from left: Hannah Zemel (playcentre staff) Adi Othman, 4, Krizia Paz, 9, Rehema Henry - Mills, 5, Solara Hassan, 5, roisin Frances, 9, Maya Emanuelle, 7, Tanya Othman, 8, Taissir Hassan(mother,holding banner)
Kilburn Grange protesters, from left: Hannah Zemel (playcentre staff) Adi Othman, 4, Krizia Paz, 9, Rehema Henry - Mills, 5, Solara Hassan, 5, roisin Frances, 9, Maya Emanuelle, 7, Tanya Othman, 8, Taissir Hassan(mother,holding banner)

Council Tax is frozen, but protesters storn Town Hall

THE Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition last night (Wednesday) became the first administration in Camden’s history to freeze council tax.

Senior councillors were congratulating themselves at a cabinet meeting for nailing their key election pledge to make no new demand on tax-payers.
But, as they toasted their historic budget plans, the controversial flipside of the freeze was exposed in dramatic circumstances as protesters stormed the Town Hall chamber and brought the meeting to a standstill.
Objectors ranging from five-year-olds who have been told that their play centre will close to trade unionists fighting to save hundreds of council jobs rallied in defiance, arguing that a programme of cuts and price hikes to pay for the freeze will hurt Camden’s most vulnerable.
At one stage during last night’s meeting, the chant of ‘Save Kilburn Grange Play Centre’ was so loud that council leader Councillor Keith Moffitt suspended the meeting for 15 minutes. He could hardly be heard amid the heckling.
In angry scenes, councillors were accused of pandering to middle class residents in Hampstead and ignoring the people who need the most help. Children unable to see over the balcony shouted through the railings.
While such public outbursts have become commonplace at full council meetings, it is the first time in recent memory that cabinet discussion have been broken up.
When the public gallery was cleared, councillors returned and agreed the budget plans.
Outside the chamber, Ann Martin, one of the parents at Kilburn Grange, said that the council had ignored them to the point of rudeness.
She said: “I was fuming in there. His (Cllr Moffitt’s) attitude was like ‘I’m the big man and you’re something on my shoe’. They had already made up my mind. The cuts won’t affect people in Hampstead. They will be happy but what about the rest of us.”
Solveig Francis – another Kilburn Grange supporter – said: “Tax is actually going up for people like this because it will have an effect on their income. There should be more places like Kilburn Grange not less.”
She added that parents needed the play centre so that they could continue work and study.
Just as angry were objectors from charities who are concerned that services used by disabled residents will in future come at a cost.
Claire Glasman, from Winvisble, a disability group, said: “This country finds money for war but there is no money for the services we need.”
Protesters are planning to march through the streets from Mornington Crescent to the Town Hall next week to follow up their campaign.
But time is running out as the coalition’s budget will be ratified if backbenchers fall in line with party policy, as they are expected to do, at a full council meeting on Wednesday.
Under the council’s plans, volunteer groups and legal advice centres will see funding reduced, meals on wheels dinners for the elderly will increase by 50p each, while Unison, the Town Hall’s largest union, have warned that more than 350 jobs will be lost and have an inevitable negative impact on services.
Unison’s Phoebe Watkins said: “There is no need for these cuts. Camden is receiving generous government funding support and has healthy balances. It is not too late to stop these destructive proposals.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Moffitt said last night (Wednesday): “We have heard a lot of accusations that say that these changes people who are better off. It is totally not the case. Council tax is a very unfair tax, it is regressive. Our desire to go ahead with this is based on a desire to help the people who really struggle to pay their council tax. It will help the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Earlier this week, Cllr Moffitt, Lib Dem treasurer Councillor Janet Grauberg and Conservative chief Councillor Andrew Marshall briefed journalists with the line that the majority of residents supported the budget on the grounds of their election win last May.
Cllr Marshall said: “We are not being arrogant about this but we have a strong mandate to be moving in this direction.”
Cllr Moffitt said: “I think the trade unions are doing what you would expect them to – they have a duty to represent their members, you would expect them to stir things up”
He added that he was “delighted” by a new endorsement from the Audit Commission.
In its annual findings, the Commission – the national body that inspects performance from local authorities – rated Camden as a top-performing four star council.
Labour deputy leader Councillor Theo Blackwell said: “It’s strange but not surprising that the Audit Commission results local Tories and Lib Dems once derided as government spin are now a badge of honour for them. However, for most of the three years this was assessed, Labour was in power investing in services rather than slashing them as this new budget wants to do with after school clubs on council estates, meals on wheels and housing. I’m not sure that a time of major redundancies is the right time to crow about successes hard-working staff were ultimately responsible for.”





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