Barking and Dagenham councillors approve cutbacks

Barking and Dagenham Council has forged ahead with a stinging programme of spending cuts.

The assembly last week approved �8.9million of cuts for 2012/13, following on from �48million of cutbacks in 2011/12.

Two Dagenham libraries, Wantz and Markyate are to shut while a third, Castle Green, could also close.

The council also axed the �330,000 grant to The Broadway theatre despite protests, including from Kes director Ken Loach.

Campaigners say this could lead to closure of the theatre in The Broadway, Barking, as a fully operating entertainment venue.

Independent Cllr George Barratt warned that Labour faced a day of “reckoning” at the next elections.

Speaking at the assembly meeting on Feburary 22 regeneration cabinet member, Cllr Cameron Geddes, admitted frontline services could be affected. He said: “We are not able to defend the frontline from these kinds of attacks.”

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The overall yearly budget was cut by �6m, from �183m in 2011/12, to �177m in 2012/13, and council tax was frozen for the fourth year.

Labour’s opposition, Independent councillors George Barratt and Ralph Baldwin, voted against the budget.

Mayesbrook ward’s Cllr Barratt said: “I am saddened at the way this budget is being pushed. There may well be a reckoning in 2014 when the next election takes place.”

Meanwhile, the authority has been forging ahead with a three-year austerity programme including �48m of cuts, 160 redundancies and 140 job “deletions”.

Residents felt the full force of the cutbacks last year, as �28m of savings were “frontloaded” in 2011/12.

The council had planned to cut �10m in 2012/13 and another �10m 2013/14, but the 2012/13 cutbacks have been increased to �18.9m.

At the meeting Labour secretary Cllr Evelyn Carpenter said she sympathised with council staff who had lost jobs.

She said: “Our staff have been the first to suffer.”

Despite the cutbacks, the council has an ambitious regeneration plan for the year to come, including trying to raise household incomes through back-to-work initiatives, improve post-16 education in particular through the opening of a Technical Skills Academy off East Street, Barking, and deliver new housing.