PROTESTERS who gathered outside Sunderland civic centre have said £35million budget cuts will be the final nail in the coffin for city residents.
A group from North East People’s Assembly met to lobby councillors ahead of the annual budget-setting meeting yesterday, during which the multimillion pound cuts for 2014/15 were given the green light.
Carrying placards in the shape of coffin lids to signify each public service, which they say will suffer because of the cuts, the group handed out leaflets.
Among the protesters was Sunderland University chaplain Chris Howson.
He said: “The coffins represents the killing off of council services. We wanted to make a point as the councillors went in.”
Despite huge division in political opinion, all 53 councillors who attended the meeting – just over two- thirds of the 74 current elected members – voted through the motion presented by council leader Paul Watson.
One of them, Southwick Councillor Rosalind Copeland, attended the lobby in Park Lane before the meeting, supporting the demonstrators.
Pointing out that she was not there to criticise the council, but to defend what it is legally-bound to do in the face of Government cuts, Coun Copeland said: “I am here to defend my council and the decision my council will have to make – the agony we are facing as councillors.
“As council members, we are having to do things we don’t want to do. The Coalition is pilfering the working class. It is not this Labour group at fault.”
> The revolution will not begin in Sunderland…official.
To streamline finances, the council is focusing on three approaches; recommissioning services, reprioritising spending and exploring alternative ways to deliver services.
This includes reviewing car-parking charges, pest control and burial and cremation fees as well as reducing the authority’s fleet of bin wagons and the introduction of a four-day working week for recycling staff.
At the meeting, Coun Watson said: “Two years ago I said we were experiencing the most difficult economic period in living memory. This position has not changed. Even more pressure has been put on the council, with further reductions in public sector finances.”
He added: “The council has risen to the challenge and has managed these considerable risks.”
Opposition leader Robert Oliver agreed that the budget was “realistic”, and that while the Tory group welcomed the council tax freeze for a fourth consecutive year, the Labour administration should not complain about cuts, which he claimed had arisen as a result of lost revenue.
He said: “The workforce has been reduced and services have improved so it’s a case of go figure.
> And Sunderland is the 5th worst place in the UK to find work. Go figure that. Reducing the workforce might save money, but it also means more people unemployed. More chasing a pitiful few jobs. More coming under the frankly vile regime in the Jobcentres.
“The leader of the council has given us a slightly two-faced speech. You can’t complain about cuts which could have been avoided if there had been a council tax increase.”
On top of the £35million slashed from the coming year’s budget, the authority will have to find an identical amount to cut the following year.
Coun Watson says some of the savings are being mitigated by “hundreds of milllions” worth of capital investment planned until 2018.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 06 March 2014
Jesus may have had some harsh words for money lenders, but a Tyneside vicar has been offering up prayers for modern day bankers.
Banks may not have enamoured themselves to people in recent years, but Father Chris Fuller is prepared to risk public disapproval – by offering prayers for them.
The plea for help from above is part of a radical approach by the vicar at St Hilda’s Church and town centre chaplain, who has launched “prayer services for businesses” throughout the town.
Prayers have already been offered for NECA – the North East Council on Addictions, based at Cookson House, the Citizens Advice Bureau, in the Edinburgh buildings, and Market Place stallholders.
Yesterday he invited representatives from the 12 banks based in and around the town centre to a service at St Hilda’s – although in the event no one from the banks attended.
Father Chris said: “We still offered prayers to the banks and named bank managers.
“Banks may not be the most popular businesses in the community, but they do offer a service and I think they have had a bad press because of the city bankers.
“I think that locally one hopes they are focused on the community and I’ve had a good response from those I’ve visited, even though some have expressed surprise that I want to pray for them.
“No one is outside of being prayed for – even banks!”
> In that case, maybe the vicar should start at the bottom – the Jobcentre, and the poor sods getting sanctioned.
As for local bank branches being focused on the community – they’re not local, they’re part of multi-national businesses. If someone at head office says “Screw the community”, then that’s what they’ll do.
Future prayers for retailers and firms will be offered at Wednesday morning services for town centre businesses – including The Gazette.
Father Chris said: “Part of my role as town centre chaplain is to support what the businesses are doing.
“They are part of the community here and, like everyone, are in need of prayer. By supporting them in prayer, the church is showing it has a role, not just for Sunday, but for all of the week for anyone in need or trouble.
“I visit businesses, give them a leaflet about the town centre chaplaincy, explain who I am and ask for the name of manager to invite to our Wednesday morning service.
“We pray for the organisation, a named manager and whoever the business supports.
“A chaplain is there to take an interest in the people in their community and offer a listening ear and advice.”
Father Chris, who has been a chaplain to both the police and the army, added: “I’m happy to support local businesses through prayer.
“Prayer is our business after all.”
> “Business” obviously being the operative word.
Source – Shields Gazette 13 Feb 2014