Lewisham Council agrees council tax hike and £21m cuts

LEWISHAM councillors voted through an overall council tax hike of 1.08 per cent along with around £21.3m in budget cuts last night (Feb 27).

At a full council meeting dominated by criticism of Chancellor George Osborne rather than discussion of the cuts themselves, Labour councillors approved the 2013/14 budget, rejecting alternatives put forward by the Lib Dems.

That approval means the closure of two youth centres, along with a 10p rise in the cost of each school meal, an increase in bereavement service fees and a whole range of other savings across the local authority's departments.

Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock said the council had sought to make savings that protected the frontline.

But he admitted: "There are services which are being hit and it's not my intention to underestimate the impact on both the frontline and back office."

And he said officers would need to find a further £10m in cuts in the coming weeks due to further central government austerity measures, alongside youth and adult employment initiatives for the borough.

Lewisham's Lib Dems had tabled a motion which would have seen money raised for business start-ups, sports grants and a tax rise of only one per cent, funded with a reduction in the mayor's cabinet along with a £10 blue badge admin fee and increased burial costs, among other measures.

Their leader Councillor Chris Maines said: "Investment in employment is key to the future of so many people in the borough."

Councillor Darren Johnson from the Green Party told the meeting praised the "brave decision" to increase council tax in order to protect other area, but called for more "imaginative thnking" on ways to save money, such as sharing services with other boroughs.

But the budget was eventually voted through by Labour councillors.

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