The full meeting of Salford City Council which, this afternoon met to rubber stamp £24.5million of cuts, was dramatically shut down by campaigners in the public gallery who constantly whistled and shouted down councillors and City Mayor Ian Stewart.
As Stewart said he was implementing the ConDem Government cuts with `a heavy heart', he was told to `Get a spine and oppose them', while the ceremonial mayor - who was trying to calm the noise down - was told to sell his `back scratcher [the mace] and that bling around your neck [the mayoral chain]'.
When Stewart talked of seeking to protect the most vulnerable from the cuts, he was again shouted down by families of those very people… `It's not good enough…What about disabled vulnerable adults?'
As whistles and abuse rained down from the public gallery, the meeting was closed and councillors fled the chamber. While they were gone, members of the public – who included trade unionists, Barton Moss campaigners, service users and families of those affected by the cuts – decided to have their own vote on whether to implement the cuts, given the lack of opposition from any councillor of both the Labour and Tory parties. To great cheers, it was unanimously decided that the cuts should not be made.
After around half an hour the councillors came back into the chamber - while being serenaded with the Star Wars storm troopers' theme tune – and the meeting re-commenced with more catcalls as the Tories put forward their alternative budget - which included taking away trade union facilities and three days unpaid leave for Council employees.
Replying, Labour councillor Bill Hinds came out with the most useful statement of the meeting… "Even we don't like ourselves" he said, while other Labour councillors rounded on Tory husband and wife Karen and Robin Garrido for taking £40,000 between them `from the Council and outside bodies'.
As the two parties began scoring political points amongst themselves, virtually everyone walked out of the public gallery in disgust.
"We've left the meeting because it just turned into a playground charade between a group of councillors who just want to have a go at each other while, behind the scenes, they're all in support of taking £27million out of Salford's budget" said Salford City UNISON branch secretary Steve North "It's ridiculous, you've got the Tories proposing attacks on the workforce, you've got the Mayor smirking because he thinks he's better than that - but he's voting through cutting people's jobs and indirectly attacking people's terms and conditions. But he thinks he's better than the Tories…
"The fact is they're all playing the Government's game, they're all playing the rich's game and we're all going to suffer" he added "And they hang about in that room on a Wednesday afternoon and pretend that there's some difference between them, when fundamentally they're all pro cuts and they're all taking decisions against the people of Salford."
Earlier, before the Council meeting started, there was a big protest outside Salford Civic Centre with speaker after speaker telling how they had been let down by Mayor Ian Stewart and the Council's policies.
Jane from Care On Call, facing a £600,000 cut and told to be `self financing' asked "What is going to happen to these vulnerable people? There'll be nothing. Who's going to pick them up at three in the morning, who's going to be there for them 365 days a year. Nobody."
Bernie, speaking on behalf of the families of special needs adults facing transport cuts, added "Salford has gone to the dogs for the vulnerable. We love all our services and need them…"
And Steve Cullen representing service users spoke of the Council taking support workers off those with mental health issues… "You are a Labour Council, start standing up for the constituents who voted you in."
Ameen Hadi, treasurer of Salford City UNISON, said that when he hears of the work Council staff do for the people of Salford, the cuts make him "almost tearful at times but angry…angry that the Council is letting this happen and not doing anything about it.
"We need to remind ourselves what these cuts are about" he added "These cuts are because a load of bankers got greedy and decided that their pockets were more important than our public services or our jobs. We've not been over spending, and the hypocrisy of what they say is incredible because they will find money for prestige projects around the country and they will find money, which we accept, when people are flooded out of their homes… money is no object when it comes to those things but when it comes to Salford no-one seems to care. We need to fight for jobs and services and if we fight together we will win."
George Tapp, from the Salford Pensioners Association, told how the cuts "are killing people and we've got to stand up and be counted. This Government wants pensioners dead because dead pensioners don't claim pensions"
Barry, from Salford Against the Cuts, said that the Barton Moss anti-fracking campaigners were an inspiration with their `non-violent direct action'… "We need to say `Enough is enough'"
* Salford Council did, of course, eventually vote to rubber stamp £24.561million of cuts for 2014/15 plus £2.158million `step-up' cuts from 2013/14.
See also previous Salford Star articles…
Salford Council Cuts Services To Pay For Prestige Projects – click here
Salford Lobbies Labour Party Cuts Councillors – click here
Photos by Steven Speed