Plans for £6.5m of cuts to Sheffield’s public services have been narrowly approved today by a heated meeting of Sheffield City Council.
As previously reported, more than half of the cuts will be to Children and Young People’s services, with projects combat substance abuse and teen pregnancy among those that will lose funding.
“Taxing less and spending more,” said Council Leader Paul Scriven, “is fun in the short run, but it’s a recipe for disaster. And that’s what the last government’s recipe was.”
He also warned that if the Labour group were successful in blocking the budget as-is, the reductions would have to be made up in “mainstream” public services. “Schools, social workers. Real services cut because you haven’t had the backbone to face the people of this city and face the consequences of the mess that your government left this city and country in.”
Cllr Scriven said that while they have been able to protect permanent jobs from redundancies, contract and temporary workers may find their contracts shortened or not renewed.
Labour Councillor Julie Dore said of the Lib Dems role in the coalition government, “You’re just lapdogs, figleaves. But boy don’t they just roll you out when they want you to announce some bad news. Whatever you decide, this is about ideology. Do not be fooled. The role of public services, how they are delivered and more importantly who delivers them is what this is all about.”
Far from the sombre faces put on by George Osborne and the cabinet on budget day, the Lib Dem cabinet appeared in more jovial spirits this afternoon. After pointing out that the country was paying out £80,000 a minute in interest, three councillors (Colin Ross, Shaffaq Mohammed and Simon Clement-Jones) openly joked about their three minute “quarter million pound” speeches. Their humour was met with uproarious laughter from the Lib Dem side of the chamber and stony faces opposite.
Cllr Mohammed said Labour councillors had been providing plenty of rhetoric, but had not come up with any of their own ideas.
“You can criticise the reductions as much as you want,” he said, “but unless you come forward with alternatives you’ve got no leg to stand on. It’s alright standing on the steps of the town hall and making speeches, but those people that actually know what’s happening in the city don’t want retoric, they want an alternative. Until you provide an alternative, you have no right to govern or lead the city.”
Cllr Andrew Sangar, cabinet member for climate change and waste management, paid tribute to the Green Party councillors for coming up with alternatives to the budget cuts, but he said “Clearly we don’t agree with it. They’re a high tax party, we’re not. We’re a fair tax party.”
Cllr Clement-Jones illustrated the city’s financial situation in terms of the debt left to Sheffield by the 1991 World Student Games. “We’re currently paying £25m every year, and will be unitl 2024. This recession will cost us two World Student Games a year for the next four years.”
Labour Cllr Jack Scott, who stood against Nick Clegg in this year’s general election, and who is a likely candidate for the vacant position of Sheffield Labour group leader, said, “Let nobody be in any doubt, this budget is a budget from hell. This fiscal sadism. It’s too much too soon and it’s too dangerous.”
He also quoted pre-election campaign literature distributed by Paul Scriven, which said “Conservative plans will mean cuts to services now and a longer recession.”
“The public debt now is £15bn less than when you wrote these leaflets,” he said, “Nothing that you’ve said today about the debt was not known then, when you said these things. Nobody in Sheffield will ever believe a word you say ever again.
“These vicious and duplicitous right wing Liberals can fool themselves, but they can’t fool Sheffield. They are out of ideas, out of excuses and out on their ear at the next election.”