Liverpool city councillors were met by hundreds of protesters at the Town Hall on Wednesday night when they gathered to pass through a budget that will see a rise in council tax and cuts to leisure and cultural services.
People gathered at the High Street building after marching through the town centre to protest over budget cuts and the government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’, which proposes to cut housing benefits to those who have spare rooms in their home.
Dale Street and Castle Street traffic came to a standstill as demonstrators blocked a riot van and mounted officers from moving after police were forced to intervene with some angry protesters at the picket line outside the Town Hall.
Despite the ongoing chants and whistles from outside, Mayor Joe Anderson told the council chamber that he would not listen to campaigners and operate on a budget that is outside of the law.
Mayor Anderson said: “We can either balance the funding reductions as we were elected to do or walk away. The other alternative is to do as the crowd outside would want us to do and set an illegal budget which would set the city back years, which I won’t do.”
The Labour mayor’s new budget, which was passed with an 82 to three vote, includes not only the closure of libraries and the cessation of subsidies to municipal golf clubs in the city, but also raising the council tax by 1.8%.
Central government offered the city a £1.6million grant if the council agree to freeze the council tax rate, but Labour’s majority contingent says that accepting the grant will mean more budget cuts for Liverpool in the future.
Mayor Anderson went on to lay the blame of the cuts at the feet of the coalition, saying: “The government is determined to cut its way to the past rather than grow its way to the future.
“The systematic dismantling of the public sector takes us back 50 years. It will reap more harm on those that need our support most. It will create more vulnerable families and undo generations of progress. That’s where we are, not where we want to be.”
He continued: “Our job and my job and your job is to do right by the people of Liverpool, whatever challenges we face.”
The budget approval is the latest of three cuts tranches to be voted on by the council, which total £32 million for the 2013-14 period, but Mayor Anderson warned that the worst is yet to come, with £149 million more needed to be found from the next three years’ budgets.
The meeting once again highlighted the discord between Mayor Anderson and the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, Councillor Richard Kemp. The pair engaged in a bitter public message argument after undisclosed details of the proposed library closures and golf club cuts emerged from the Budget Working Group meetings. Whilst the group was arranged for cross-party inclusion, with neither side taking the blame for the leaks, the mayor dissolved the assembly.
The Lib Dem element of the council attempted to put an amendment on this budget bill which would accept the government’s council tax freeze and £1.6million grant, but the amendment was voted out by all but 10 councillors.This came as no surprise to the Lib Dem leader.
Cllr Kemp told JMU Journalism: “We didn’t expect the freeze to happen but that’s not to say we don’t believe it was right. We voted for what we believed in this evening and we will go on and vote for similar things in the future.”
The Lib Dem leader explained that his party voted for the final budget without the amendment because it was a case of voting for something or voting for nothing, which he said would not be good enough.
Cllr Kemp told JMU Journalism: “The way we do the budget isn’t good enough. Decisions at the moment are taken by five people in a room, in secret, and then the rest of the council is informed about it before the rest of the city is informed about it.
“We believe the only way you can deal with the problems is to involve all the users, whether it’s people at the golf course, people at the libraries or people in social services and say ‘what are your priorities, how would you do things’? When we do ask, people have loads of ideas of how to do things both better and cheaper.”