Protesters demonstrate against county council cuts

Protesters outside County Hall  in Winchester today
Protesters outside County Hall in Winchester today

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Demonstrators gathered outside Winchester Castle today to campaign against proposed Hampshire County Council cuts.

The council was today expected to pass a budget which will cut £55m and 1,170 jobs.

But some councillors joined union members and concerned parents who gathered outside to attempt to change the council’s plans at the last minute.

Havant councillor Ann Buckley, said: ‘I am here because I’m passionate about Sure Start centres which may be closed, but also because of the mobile book-bus.

‘The bus visits children’s centres and nurseries across Havant Borough and gives children a good standard of literacy before they start school. It is a new service. Children and parents love it and if we lose it we will never get it back.’

Young mother Emma Parnell was asking councillors to re-think their policy on Sure Start centres. She said: ‘I have an 18-month-old daughter Emilia who goes to a Sure Start centre. They are a life-saver and a godsend and if they were to close everyone would suffer - parents, children, and as the children grow older, education in general. We’re just here to try to change councillors minds.’

Tim Cutter, deputy branch secretary of Hampshire Unison, led members of his union in chants against cuts. He said: ‘We are opposed to all cuts and we will fight them.

‘We have a larger demo planned for 12.30pm this afternoon. We need to make sure councillors know these plans will damage not only the council but by taking away services, also the whole of the Hampshire community.’

Protests continued as union members, council employees, and parents of young children petitioned councillors as they broke for lunch.

Around 50 people chanted ‘No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts’ to a drum beat, as members of the council left the chamber.

The budget proposed by the ruling Conservative group will see £55m of spending cuts and 1,170 job losses.

Areas which would be affected include adult services and children services, which protestors say will punish the most vulnerable in Hampshire.

Jen Kilroy, who works for the county’s adult services department said: ‘I work with the elderly and disabled people in critical and substantial need of care.

‘We have a significant waiting list already and though it sounds dramatic further cuts to our budgets will result in deaths.

‘We are here to show our opposition to the council’s proposals.’

Catherine Ovenden, who had earlier made a deputation to the council joined the protest. She said: ‘Both my young children use the county’s Sure Start centres which council cuts would close. This must not happen.

‘The centres offer parents support and information on bringing up children. They are a vital resource for parents and I don’t know what I would do without them.

‘I hope what we have said today will at least plant the seed with councillors to reconsider.’

The Liberal Democrat group led by Councillor Keith House, presented an alternative budget using council revenue to make sure the council would not have to cut spending on children’s centres by the 35 per cent proposed.

He said: ‘I think the presence of young mothers and children out demonstrating should drive a point home that these cuts really matter to people across the county. I do believe it’s possible for the Conservative group to re-think its plans.’

Representatives of Unison Trade Union, led the protests but gained little sympathy from Conservative councillors.

Hampshire County Cllr Sean Woodward, for Fareham borough, said: ‘It’s very difficult for the public to feel sympathy for public sector workers. It is shame that some will lose their jobs but many of them are not doing real jobs. Their positions were created as part of a massive and unnecessary expansion of the public sector workforce by the last government.’

But Tim Cutter, deputy branch secretary of Hampshire Unison, said: ‘It’s just not true to say that money isn’t available or that job cuts won’t affect services across the county.

‘£120bn per year is lost through people avoiding paying tax yet the council is proposing sacking the very people whose job it is to collect taxes.

‘We keep being told that these are public sector cuts but it wasn’t the public sector that ran up this debt, it was the banks.’