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Bid to fight off austerity cuts hurt by 'squabbling'
A bid to form a united front among Southampton politicians against the Government’s austerity drive on council finances collapsed last night amid party political squabbling.
An attempt by Labour council bosses to forge cross-party support to secure a fair funding deal from ministers ended in each side playing the blame game.
This came after anti-cuts campaigners from the Socialist Party and Trade Unionists and Socialists Coalition protested outside the Civic Centre as councillors arrived for the first full council meeting since savage budget cuts were unveiled on Monday.
During their demonstration their party flag was hoisted up the official civic flagpole – forcing council workers to dismantle the whole pole to get it down.
Inside, spokesman Nick Chaffey led a deputation to the meeting, calling on councillors to rebel against the cuts. “This is a time to be bold and have the courage to stand on the right side of the line,” he said.
But Labour bosses instead called for parties to team up to lobby the Government for a fair share of its funding. This week it announced plans to axe more than 300 jobs as well as cutting services and hiking charges as they attempt to plug a £20m black hole.
However, finance boss councillor Cllr Simon Letts last night said the coalition Government’s decision in 2010 to cut local council budgets by 28 per cent over the next four years was unfair to Southampton because it was more deprived than normal and demand for services was rising. He tabled a motion calling on parties to unite in persuading the Government to take this into account before it announces its council funding on December 24.
He said: “This motion is about encouraging joint working together to try and put our case before the guillotine comes down.
“If we can collectively put pressure on Government to change their minds and give us a better deal then I think we as politicians locally should be taking that action.”
Initially, Cllr Royston Smith, former city boss and Tory group leader, said he was willing to back Labour in its lobbying bid.
He said: “I will support you on this because there are 240,000 people we need to be represented and we are keen to do that.”
But as the debate continued, the spirit of goodwill turned to attacks on Labour’s broken election promises over protecting jobs and services after reversing swinging pay cuts. Deputy opposition Tory leader Cllr Jeremy Moulton said: “It is our job as the opposition to hold you to account for those things you promised.”
However, the Tory goodwill collapsed completely after Labour councillor Satvir Kaur accused them of not agreeing with their own Government if they backed the lobbying motion. Cllr John Hannides then led a chorus of disapproval before Tory support was withdrawn – despite pleas from council leader Richard Williams and Cllr Letts to reconsider.