Councillors clash over cut to libraries service during budget debate

A Lib Dem proposal to find a new leisure centres provider instead of cutting the libraries budget was rejected by Labour councillors, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Labour cabinet member for finance Dana Carlin (inset left) clashed with Lib Dem group leader Luke Cawley-Harrison (inset right) at Tottenham Town Hall
Labour finance chief Dana Carlin (inset left) clashed with Lib Dem leader Luke Cawley-Harrison (inset right) at Tottenham Town Hall

Councillors clashed at Haringey’s annual budget meeting as opposition Lib Dems blasted the Labour-run council for making cuts to the borough’s libraries service.

While Haringey Council has set a balanced budget for 2024/25, civic centre leaders say this hasn’t come without sacrifices – the most notable being an almost one-third reduction in spending on the libraries service.

Council tax rates are also being increased by 4.99%, the maximum allowed.

Council leader Peray Ahmet and Dana Carlin, cabinet member for finance and local investment, both spoke in defence of the budget plans yesterday (4th March) during the meeting at Tottenham Town Hall.

Cllr Carlin said in her opening speech: “Over the past 14 years funding for our borough has reduced by about £143m in real terms, starting back in 2010 when the party opposite [Liberal Democrats] went into coalition with the Tories.”

She pointed the finger at both the Tories and Lib Dems for the current financial landscape, adding local authorities “across the political spectrum” had campaigned to central government for “fairer funding and longer term settlements”.

Cllr Carlin also criticised the government for calling on councils to plug budget shortfalls with reserves, which she described as an unsustainable solution as they could “only be spent once”.

She acknowledged the government had increased funding via the Social Care Grant, which represents  £2.5m for Haringey, but added that despite the increase being welcome it represented “nowhere near the amount” needed to cover the rising cost of delivering adults’ and children’s social care. 

Cllr Carlin added the cost of borrowing had “soared” leading to a “careful examination” of the council’s capital programme, comprised of long and short-term investment schemes. 

This has resulted in a 40% reduction to the programme between 2023 and 2028, with proposals removed if no longer required or if the cost is no longer justified.

Despite this, the Labour cabinet member said she was proud libraries would be kept open, leisure centres insourced, investments made into adult’s and children’s services, as well as homelessness tackled. 

Cllr Carlin added the council’s housebuilding programme was “on track” to deliver 3,000 council homes by 2031 and said “additional investment” would be made into fire prevention works and in dealing with maintenance issues such as damp and mould. 

Opposition leader Luke Cawley-Harrison said he agreed the last 14 years of Tory government had led to underfunding and was a detriment to the public. He described it as an “attack on local government from national government” and said the room was “united” in wanting this to end. 

However, the Lib Dem group leader said councils had to play the “hand they were dealt” and keep the interest of the residents in focus rather than using it as a “political agenda”. 

Cllr Cawley-Harrison heavily criticised the proposed library service cuts, which the council announced late last year, representing a 31% cut to spending over the next three years. The plans include reduced opening hours and using volunteers instead of professional librarians. 

Describing the cuts as a “political choice” rather than a financial necessity, he claimed the council hadn’t listened or taken residential opposition on board.

Cllr Cawley-Harrison also criticised the council’s decision to insource leisure centres following the termination of the council’s contract with Fusion, saying the council should have found an alternative external provider to take on the responsibility. 

He claimed the choice to bring the service in-house instead would cost taxpayers an additional “£700,000” per year, the same amount he claimed the libraries budget would be cut by in the first year.

Council leader Peray Ahmet had earlier reiterated Cllr Carlin’s criticism of the Lib Dems for “propping up” the Tories by going into coalition with them at Westminster in 2010. She said she was aware the opposition party wanted to “distance themselves”  from the coalition given it was a long time ago but said it was responsible for starting the “mess” local government finances were now in.

Cllr Ahmet defended the budget, saying it was balanced, fair and did not let anyone fall through the cracks. She said: “This Labour administration and our manifesto is centred on delivering despite financial challenges; I’m incredibly proud of what we have done and what this budget allows us to continue to do.” 

Following the debate, the Lib Dem budget amendments were voted down by Labour, with the budget subsequently waived through.

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