Islington’s �100million cuts will devastate young and old

LOLLIPOP men could be axed, adventure playgrounds could be closed and home-help for the elderly could be ditched as Islington faces millions in swingeing cuts.

Government cutbacks mean Islington Council needs to make around �100million in savings between 2011 and 2015 – and a leaked document has now revealed the considerable cuts Town Hall bosses are considering.

Many of the proposed cuts would hit the borough’s most needy residents – with services for children and the elderly among the hardest hit.

But the Labour-run council is not planning to axe council propaganda magazine IslingtonLife, is only looking at making a relatively small reduction to its “spin doctor” budget, and is pressing ahead with its flagship policy of giving every child at primary school or nursery a free school meal.

The litany of cuts proposed for next financial year include:

* Putting up child daycare prices to save �45,000.

* Axing staffed adventure playgrounds to save �63,000.

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* Ditching the school uniform grant for poor families to save �120,000.

* Cancelling the Council Tax rebate for OAPs to save �650,000.

* Cutting the number of staff at homes and day centres for disabled people to save �108,000.

* No longer helping OAPs with shopping, laundry and cleaning to save �150,000.

* Putting up the cost of meals on wheels to save �50,000.

* Closing the public toilets in Chapel Market and Old Street to save �100,000.

And the pain for the borough’s old and young will not stop there – because by 2015, the council is also planning to have fewer primary schools, no more lollipop men at school crossings, and a “big reduction” in youth work.

Lollipop lady Janet Wooden, 56, who patrols outside St John’s Highbury Vale Primary School off Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park, said: “By cutting lollipop men and women, they are putting children’s lives at risk, which is putting the future of the country at risk. And they don’t seem to realise that the older generation are the people who made the council and that it’s their responsibility to look after us.

“Why don’t they cut universal free school meals instead? If people can afford to pay for them, they should.”

There are also fears that the cuts could lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour because by 2015, the council is also planning to ditch the graffiti-cleaning team, axe park rangers and no longer lock up parks at night.

Martin Jones, chairman of the Highbury Fields Association, said: “Highbury Fields already has to share a park ranger with many other open spaces, so the chance that anyone misbehaving will be caught is pretty remote anyway. The council has unfortunately got to make cuts. The proposals are understandable but not welcome.”

Councillor Terry Stacy, leader of the Lib-Dem opposition, said if he were in power, he would start by axing free school meals, getting rid of IslingtonLife, halving the number of staff in the communications budget, reducing the number of assistant directors by a third, and not replacing chief executive John Foster – who is this year being paid �210,000 – when he retires in May 2011.

He said: “Labour’s secret list of cuts is horrifying. It’s the vulnerable who seem to be lined up to suffer – the people who can’t shout about these cuts. We will see our streets getting dirtier, our parks unkempt, our vulnerable neglected and crime and anti-social behaviour increasing while Labour funds highly-paid spin doctors, propaganda and PR and hangs on to free school meals for millionaires’ kids.”

The Labour council refused to be drawn on the details of any planned cuts – saying that it does not comment on leaked reports – but insisted that no decisions had yet been made.

Chief executive John Foster said: “Islington is facing major cuts and we’ve never disguised that fact. We have to be realistic – jobs are being shed, some services will change and, unfortunately, some will close. The council doesn’t comment on leaked documents or speculative reports. What I can tell you is that I instructed all of the council’s chief officers to look at all of their services and present me with a range of options for savings. These have then been put to senior councillors for their consideration. Some they’ll accept, some they’ll reject. This happens every year but undeniably this year it is more intense as we seek to find greater savings than ever before.”

“The government still hasn’t finalised its announcement on council funding so we still don’t know how much we’ll lose. We’re estimating cuts in the region of �100million over the next four years. When we know, we will be in a position to share the detail of the proposed budget.”

The council added that children’s services and housing and adult social services are among the council’s biggest-spending departments.