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Highbury day centre axed as £52m worth of cuts hit services

PUBLISHED: 10:08 11 February 2011

The IHOOPS protest

The IHOOPS protest

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A VITAL centre for old people was one of the main victims as Islington Council revealed £52million of cuts.

Sotheby Mews Day Centre, in Sotheby Mews, Highbury, will shut as part of cost savings across the borough.

Islington Council insisted no libraries, children’s centres or sports centres would close – as it battles to protect frontline services against the biggest ever reduction in central Government funding – but warned there could be worse to come.

The council’s Labour finance chief, Councillor Richard Greening, said: “We have tried to reduce costs while keeping centres and libraries open, but this means we are now more exposed to further Government cuts. This is only the first of four years of swingeing cuts expected. The question is whether we can sustain these services through another huge cuts programme.”

The council has withdrawn the £160,000 grant it pays Age Concern Islington to run Sotheby Mews, as part of a wide-ranging package of savings that amounts to 16 per cent of its overall budget of £320million.

Slashed

Other services to go include free swimming, Christmas lights, PCSOs in primary schools, the PlusBus accessible bus, and expert teacher trainers in maths and literacy – while between 300 to 350 jobs will be slashed.

Connexions, which provides guidance and mentoring to young people and helps get them into work, was one of the hardest hit areas in a litany of reductions that runs to 10 pages. It will lose around £1.7million, or 72 per cent of its budget, and 32 members of staff.

Councillor Greening said: “It will affect the prospects of Islington’s young people. Schools will have to do more of that mentoring and guidance work because the council-run services won’t be there.”

The Labour leadership has meanwhile pledged to continue funding universal free school meals, while £150,000 has been set aside for a new Citizen’s Advice Bureau and £25,000 for a new dog warden.

Councillor Terry Stacy, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, acknowledged council leaders faced tough decisions, but said: “They’re making the wrong sorts of savings. The free school meals are something they should be looking at. Islington tax payers are paying for children whose parents could easily afford lunches and children from outside the borough. They are subsidising people from Highgate.

“The council has got to make savings, but with PlusBus, Sotheby Mews, and many of the cuts, they are looking at the wrong savings and hitting the wrong people.”

Labour councillor Janet Burgess, executive member for health and adult social care, revealed that she was in talks with organisations other than Age Concern Islington to keep some services running at Sotheby Mews.

Reduced

The council will continue to waive rent and will provide a much-reduced grant of £30,000, she said, adding: “We’re committed to doing the best we possibly can for people using Sotheby Mews.”

Andy Murphy, chief executive of Age Concern Islington, said: “We are very sorry the centre is closing. For some it will be a very big blow indeed, but we are hoping to help them to find alternatives.

“If the council can find another way of keeping it open it on a stable basis then I would welcome that.”

Hundreds of people joined an anti-cuts protest that was staged on Saturday by campaign group Islington Hands Off Our Public Services, marching from the Odeon in Holloway Road, Holloway, to Islington Green, where Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, addressed the crowd.

Shirley Franklin, chairwoman of IHOOPS, said around 1,000 people took part.

“It’s the beginning of the fight back against the cuts by the people of Islington,” she said.

A protest organised by the Islington branch of public sector trade union Unison will take place on February 17.


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