Newcastle Labour council slashes Sure Start

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Newcastle has been the focus of recent media attention due to the extent of council cuts. After decimating the Play and Youth Service in 2012, the Labour-led council now wants to slash the budget for Sure Start early years services by £4.7m, roughly equivalent to a 65% cut.

Parents Against Cuts

On 25 October Parents Against Cuts, in which FRFI supporters are centrally involved, gathered outside the councillor surgery of Labour Council Leader Nick Forbes for a protest against cuts to Sure Start and family services. That week the campaign had received significant national and local media attention and had forced limited concessions from the council in the form of a Cabinet proposal to reduce the planned cuts by £385,000. The campaign is clear that this is not good enough. So in the week before Halloween, protesters – decked-out in spooky fancy-dress and led by ‘Ghosts of Labour’s Past’ – arrived armed with sound-system, banners and placards; to send a very clear message to ‘Slasher Forbes’ and his Labour ‘Council-of-Cuts’: ‘No cuts to Sure Start – no cuts at all! Early years provision for everyone!’

Forbes fibs… again

Local Labour councillors are clearly spooked. On 25 November The Guardian carried a three-page interview with Nick Forbes, in which he equated anti-cuts protests with far-right marches and perpetuated the barefaced lie that he was attacked in the street by an anti-cuts protester in 2012. In reality he was verbally challenged by anti-cuts activist, Don MacDonald, who was then arrested at home and held for hours. All charges against him were later dropped.

The Guardian article also claimed that Forbes had saved nine out of ten libraries by working in partnership with the local community. In reality, the Labour Council is keenly ‘disposing of’ or ‘transferring’ its community assets in order to save money. Moorside and Dinnington libraries have shut entirely; Jesmond library is being run by volunteers. Another four libraries continue to operate but are no longer the responsibility of the city council. Leisure facilities and parks are also under threat. Three leisure centres have already been transferred to charity North Country Leisure and prices have gone up. Five more are at risk of privatisation, or as the glossy spin of the council website puts it:

‘We are currently running a soft market testing exercise to seek input from the market to establish the most attractive way forward for a future procurement opportunity for five sport and leisure facilities in Newcastle.’

As we go to print it is still unclear how cuts to Sure Start will be implemented. However, it is evident that the Council is planning to get rid of universal provision and restrict access to services by postcode.

In The Guardian, Forbes complained that being council leader ‘is a lonely place to be’. We have no sympathy for him. As Parents Against Cuts campaigner Vanessa Cutter says: ‘Being an unemployed new mother with a screaming baby and nowhere to go for support – now that’s a lonely place to be!’

Annie Rutter and Patrick Casey

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