I am now convinced that the LibDems and Tories on Southwark Council have spent the past month deliberately scaring people about the state of the borough's finances. From conversations I have had with colleagues and Council officers it looks as if there will be no need for really major front-line service cuts this year, despite LibDem Leader Nick Stanton telling us since the start of the year that three leisure centres would have to close; there would be a halt to work regenerating the Aylesbury Estate and rumours of our museums having to shut.
This foolish scaremongering by Cllr Stanton has caused real upset to many local residents. Special meetings have had to be called with residents of the Aylesbury Estate in order to give them some reassurance, and myself and my colleagues have been bombarded with e-mails and telephone calls from many people pleading for our help in saving their local services.
It may be that the Libs and the Tories go ahead and implement some really severe cuts. But my understanding of the current proposed budget figures suggest that the services and projects highlighted by Cllr Stanton are not even on the list for cutbacks at present. So if those cuts do come, we will be arguing that they are certainly not necessary.
Only last week Cllr Stanton refused to give me any reassurance about the future of the Camberwell Leisure Centre after I had heard further rumours of its closure as a result of budget cuts.
It is all very well to create justified attention about the state of the Council's finances as a consequence of the Government's funding settlement; 70% of the Council's funding comes from Central Government; but it is another thing to frighten and panic people about basic service provision as part of a silly political game. Doesn't that sort of posturing and behaviour call to mind the antics of Derek Hatton and Liverpool Council in the 1980's? So shame on Cllr Stanton for unnecessarily frightening people about the future of their jobs and their services.
Our neighbouring borough of Lambeth have faced a similar increase in funding from the Government as Southwark, but they will be opening three new leisure centres this year; whilst Nick Stanton has made himself and his Executive colleagues look foolish with their talk of closing three leisure centres in our borough. As the title of this entry says - scaring people is bad politics!