Protesters were forcibly ejected from a council meeting at Hackney town hall last night after councillors voted to increase council tax for the first time in 10 years.
Before the meeting security guards surrounded Conservative Councillor Harvey Odze as he had a heated confrontation with the protesters at the main entrance of the building.
One of those picketing the meeting was Richard Rieser, the equalities officer for Hackney National Union of Teachers, who said the Council was responsible for “an attack on children.”
“By 2020, the schools in Hackney will have lost 550 teachers and 1200 support staff. Our schools are some of the best in the country at the moment. They will not be by 2020.”
As Mr Rieser, who is a wheelchair user, criticised the Council for implementing cuts to disability services, he was repeatedly interrupted with cries of “rubbish” from councillor Odze.
The Conservative councillor shouted: “You’re communists, you’re not socialists. Fascists.” He later cried: “You’re communist fascists.”
The 2% increase is expected to raise £1.33 million to pay for social care for the elderly and disabled. Band D ratepayers will pay £20 more annually next year for the Council tax portion of their bill.
Before the meeting, around 40 protesters had assembled on the front steps of the Town Hall calling on the Council to refuse to implement “Tory cuts”.
The protest was organised by Hackney Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
Brian Debus, the chair of Hackney Unison, said the tax increase would affect those who can least afford it. “An increase of 2% may not seem a lot but for someone who’s on benefits, someone who’s on low pay, that’s a 2% cut in their standard of living, which they can’t afford.”
During the meeting, as mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe stood to introduce the Labour group’s budget proposals, one of the protesters shouted: “Don’t vote for cuts. People are losing their jobs.”
As the protesters continued to disrupt the meeting, Mr Pipe asked: “Why don’t you sit down and listen to some facts?”
The debate continued after five demonstrators were removed from the room by security staff. Mr Pipe said: “I am terribly disappointed that the delegation from the demonstration outside earlier have left. They need to stop misleading the public.”
Commenting on the budget, which includes over £1 billion of expenditure, Mr Pipe said: “The Council has had to deliver more with fewer resources. If the government doesn’t change its approach to local government funding, budgets are going to require difficult choices and reductions in services.”
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups on the Council each proposed an amendment to the budget, which were voted down by the Labour councillors.
The Liberal Dems proposed a 3.99% rise in council tax, with £1.6 million of the additional revenue to be spent on a hardship fund for residents who have difficulty paying council tax, as well as English lessons for adults and support for voluntary groups
Proposing the Conservative amendment, councillor Simche Steinberger mainly argued for Hackney Today, the Council’s fortnightly newsletter, to be abolished.
In response, cabinet member Feryal Demirci attempted to highlight the opposition parties’ failure to develop new ideas by repeating the same speech she gave at the budget debate in 2014.
Ahead of the meeting Liberal Democrat councillor Abraham Jacobson told the Hackney Post: “Bearing in mind council tax hasn’t gone up for 10 years, I think it’s very much in order.
Mr Jacobson also attacked Labour’s record of running the Council. “I don’t think they have a grip on the finances. When it comes to procurement they’re very poor,” he said. “Rather than using buzzwords like London Living Wage, they should be trying to represent the people of Hackney.
“The people of Hackney want social care – they want all their services.”
The Council also voted to borrow hundreds of millions of pounds over the next three years, placing the borough into an expected £220 million of debt by March 2019.
Factoring in expected population growth, this equates to £733 of debt per resident.
Under the borough’s newly approved budget, the Council will borrow £71 million next year, rising to £323 million by 2018/19.
Many residents have responded angrily to the Council tax rise. Mercedes Simpson, 28, said: “This council tax rise will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for so many families. It’s just typical. People are being shoved out of Hackney en masse.”
She also expressed concern at the amount of debt building up for future generations.
“I’m surprised they’re borrowing so much, we’re just setting ourselves up for another cataclysmic crash. That’s what’s happening in the whole economy is and clearly Hackney council are no different.”
The budget report also anticipates a 30% cut in the public health budget over the long term due to the government introducing a new funding formula. Stop-smoking services, sexual health services and support for people with substance abuse issues could all be affected as the cuts come into effect.