Council cuts agreed despite protest

Banner unfurled in support of rebellious Labour councillor during budget meeting, reports James Cracknell

Further cuts to local services of £18million have been agreed by Enfield Council – plus a total council tax rise of nearly 5%.

It now brings the total cuts made in the borough over the last decade to £178m.

Enfield Civic Centre
Enfield Civic Centre, where Wednesday evening’s budget meeting took place

The Labour-run council blames its cuts on the Conservative government’s continued financial restrictions on local authorities, with a further £6.3m fall in central funding available for 2019-20. While the budget was voted through with support from both Labour and Conservative members, one Labour councillor took a stand by abstaining.

Tolga Aramaz, who represents Edmonton Green, told the meeting: “I am putting my political career at risk. I will not be voting for the budget, knowing I will be punished by my party.

“There has been mass devastation in our borough – four out of ten Enfield children live in poverty and we are the eleventh most impoverished area for children in the UK. Young people are bearing the responsibility for austerity.

“Austerity kills, yet people still deny it. The devastation carries on under the Tories while they try to turn a blind eye. This is the ultimate betrayal of Enfield.”

Cllr Aramaz’s speech was loudly cheered in the public gallery, from which a banner supporting him was hung during the meeting. Dozens of people had earlier held a demonstration outside Enfield Civic Centre to put pressure on all councillors to reject cuts in the budget.

The total 4.92% rise in council tax for Enfield residents, starting from April 2019, is equivalent to an extra £1.47 per week for the average household. It is made up of a 2.99% core tax rise and 1% specifically earmarked for adult social care, with the rest attributable to the Greater London Authority (GLA).

The Mayor of London’s portion of council tax has risen 8.93% – a hike strongly criticised by Tory councillor Terence Neville, who told the budget meeting: “It wouldn’t be so bad if [GLA] services were getting better, but they’re not.

“He [Sadiq Khan] has lost enormous amounts of money on Crossrail, a scandal and an absolute disgrace of management – that’s why he’s had to impose an enormous tax increase.”

The opposition Conservative group proposed an amendment to the council’s budget, criticising newly-agreed plans to drop weekly bin collections in order to save £2m a year.

Tory leader Joanne Laban said: “Weekly collection is a priority for residents. Cabinet members have come across as if they know best and residents do not. We want to show that the council does listen.”

However, the amendment was defeated.

Mary Maguire, the council’s cabinet member for finance, said: “How on earth this Tory government expect us to continue to provide quality services to the people who rely on them, I don’t know.

“We are minimising where we can. We have had to look at different ways of doing things. There is no certainty [over government funding] after 2020, as well as Brexit uncertainty. We have huge cost pressures with our demand-led services, but we have to find a way to fund them.”