Kicking off in Catford as Lewisham makes cuts

(video via Hangbitch. More from BBC News, Lewisham Right to Work and Transpontine.)

From The Guardian (at the time of writing – 1am – our supposed local newspaper the News Shopper hadn’t bothered to publish tonight, despite the fact this will be featured on national media breakfast shows on Tuesday morning):

Police tonight arrested several people outside Lewisham town hall in south-east London as demonstrators tried to force their way into a meeting where councillors voted to cut the council budget by £60m.

Officers had to call for help from the Metropolitan police’s Territorial Support Group as about 100 protesters tried to force their way into the building.

“Police have made a number of arrests for criminal damage and public order offences,” the Met said in a statement. “A number of police officers were treated for minor injuries.”

A taste of things to come, perhaps, for those of us on the Greenwich side of the borough boundary. The protesters included a large number of Goldsmiths College students, who’ll no doubt be delighted to know Woolwich Town Hall is a short ride on the 53 or 177 buses from New Cross.

In all seriousness, I imagine Greenwich Labour’s hierarchy will be be looking at the scenes from Catford with a mixture of trepidation and satisfaction. Trepidation, because this scenes like this face every single council in the country as the coalitions cuts slice through their budgets.

But satisfaction, because Greenwich Council has played its hands very close to its chest on the question of cuts, in complete contrast to Lewisham, whose directly-elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock got his axe out almost as soon as he and the Labour council were re-elected in May. The violence seen outside Lewisham Town Hall was the price Sir Steve Bullock paid for that strategy, which included a consultation called “Our Lewisham, Our Say“, the kind of cuddly-sounding scheme that’s unthinkable this side of the border.

Apart from persistent rumours about libraries becoming “self-service” (or closing the lot and having just one in Woolwich), and a cut in voluntary group funding, concrete evidence of Greenwich’s plans is hard to find. Greenwich axed its funding for Blackheath fireworks claiming it was due to cutbacks, but we know this was nonsense – with the council having blown the cash on a mayoral booze-up and Olympics-linked arts projects. It’s easy – too easy, really – to criticise Labour leader Chris Roberts’ iron rule over the council, but it’s saved it from a Bullock-sized ruck as seen in Catford.

There’s also a different political scene in Lewisham – run on a mayoral system, it was a hung borough before the last election, the Socialist Party had two councillors before May, a group called Lewisham People Before Profit are a force in local elections in the north of the borough. Greenwich, meanwhile is a rather stale Labour-Tory ding-dong. A group set up by Socialist Party members, Greenwich Save Our Services, is hoping to marshal any opposition to cuts – although their last demo seemed to me to be a just a small group of grumpy lefties. This will no doubt change, though, as Greenwich’s cuts become clearer.

Will Greenwich will be able to avoid scenes like Monday night’s rows in Catford, or is it storing up more trouble for the future? The answer will be one of several no-doubt unpleasant things we’ll find out next year.


  1. I doubt very much Greenwich’s strategy has saved it from a ruck, merely postponed it. And the ruck itself may be more ferocious due to everyone having been kept in the dark.

  2. satisfaction, because Greenwich Council has played its hands very close to its chest on the question of cuts

    Darryl, Greenwich Council has not yet received its “settlement letter” from Eric Pickles’ office, I gather. It may arrive on Christmas Eve. Only then will Greenwich Council really know what cuts it has to make. Perhaps it will be like Bradford where (seen on Twitter) all 20,000 staff have been/are to be sacked (presumably then to re-apply for their own jobs, BBC-style).

  3. Those few police holding the line until reinforcements turn up are bloody brave. None is wearing a helmet – until that one with a cycling helmet pushes back someone trying to breach the police group – and anyone in the crowd could have thrown a brick or fire extinguisher or used a knife. The police were probably cursing Labour Lewisham councillors for being so out of touch with their electorate.

  4. Lewisham hasn’t had its settlement letter yet, Indigo – but has still slashed away. Hence me writing this post.

    Matt – you could be right.

  5. There’s also a small piece local politicking taking place here. In the Lewisham vote the Labour majority pushed through the cuts without support from the Conservative or LibDem councillors, who are of course pursuing the ‘cuts agenda’ at a national level. Will be interesting to see if the Tories support the cuts in Greenwich?

  6. Chris Roberts expects the final setlement to be announced on 7th December. He has said publicly:

    * Cuts (by 2014) in range of £47-£95 million per annum

    * If they’re less than £50 million he can see way through protecting main services, more will cause problems

    * Libraries and Children’s Centres not at risk

    * Job reductions (not necessarily redundancies) in hundreds

    * Spends £43k a year on zoo in Maryon Wilson Park. Would rather spend this on “granny’s care package”. If residents like the animals so much, they can help look after them as part of Big Society.

    * Has talked to other Boroughs about sharing services but progress slower than expected (blames unnamed other Boroughs for this)

    * In any case not keen on anything that looks like de facto merger, prefers more co-operation between public services in Borough (Council, police, NHS etc)

  7. Darryl

    I think its “Council thinking about stopping zoo money” rather than “Council has decided to stop zoo money”

    Chris Roberts was speaking at a meeting last week organised by the SE London Chamber of Commerce. Somebody in the audience asked if he thought the Big Society could help Councils and he replied as I’ve reported above.

    The fact that he spontaneously gave such a detailed reply suggests that the Council have been thinking about closing the zoo but I wouldn’t want to imply that he made an announcement to that effect.

  8. Council managers cutting services to save their own jobs. It’s that simple. Senior managers have been told to cut services or cut jobs and it’s a lot easier to hit the elderly and vulnerable than to confront colleagues with job losses (and managers get paid roughly by the numbers of staff they manage). Key players in this will have been Kevin Sheehan and Barrie Neale who have fairly pointless (and in many ways duplicate) roles reporting directly to the Chief Executive. The first cuts to be made should be their jobs:

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