Social care cuts protest
Protesters outside the town hall for a previous meeting

Greenwich Council’s cabinet were branded “cowards” as they voted to impose new social care charges on Wednesday night, despite a last-ditch plea by campaigners to abandon them.

The changes, which aim to claw back £1.6m in adult social care costs, are part of the council’s budget plans for the next four years.

Jenny Hurst, who co-founded Greenwich Disabled People Against Cuts, called a consultation about the budget a “tokenistic tick-box exercise”. She said the consultation was too short at just two weeks, although this was later extended following complaints.

“Even a consultation on electric vehicle charging lasted four weeks,” she told councillors.

She added the lack of hard copy documents “discriminated against a wide group of people who don’t use online or social media”.

“You asked to what extent people agree with changes to social care … it wasn’t a consultation at all, it was a tokenstic tick-box exercise.Does independence mean the same to you as it does to us? Without involving us you don’t know.”

She was followed by Sue Elsegood, the chair of disability advocacy group Metro GAD, who delivered a statement on behalf of another resident, Fred Williams.

“You are a bunch of cowards, you never told us about the £8m cuts to care you’re going to make over the next four years,” she read from the statement. “You seem to have forgotten you have a duty of care.”

In response, council leader Danny Thorpe said the short consultation was “out of our control” and was truncated by the government calling a general election for December.

Averil Lekau, the cabinet member for adult social care, said the consultation was not purely about reducing costs, but also providing a better service.

“It’s not about spiralling costs, it’s about the quality of the service we’re providing,” she said.

“We feel very strongly this work is helping us understand how we can provide a better service to our residents, and it is about giving resilience and independence and to say independence equates to reduced services is not necessarily the case.”

Damon Cook, the council officer in charge of finance, said: “This is not necessarily about budget cuts. We are already spending well in excess of the set budget for health and adults.Any of these changes are about reducing that overspend, we are already spending way over what we had budgeted for those services.”

The statements came as the cabinet also voted through proposals to raise council tax by 3.99 per cent. The raise – which will include a 2 per cent rise of the social care precept and a 1.99 per cent rise of council tax – will see a band D household pay an extra 90p a week.

Other proposals will see the borough’s poorest residents made completely exempt from having to pay council tax, while plans to close the Glyndon adventure playground and move the Coldharbour library and adventure play centre in Mottingham to the local leisure centre have been dropped.

The social care charges had been one of the most contentious plans for the council’s four-year budget, which it hopes will close a £57m gap in funding. Cook said the £57m gap was “derived out of two particular issues – one being a structural deficit” where services were showing a gross overspends of about £25m. He said further pressures would bring the total to £57m.

Both the budget and the council tax rise are set to be ratified in a full council meeting next Wednesday.

The cabinet also voted to increase rents and service charges for council tenants by 2.7 per cent, meaning the average combined rent and service charge for council tenants will now be £104.45 per week. Chris Kirby, the housing cabinet member, said Greenwich would still offer the cheapest council rents in London.

Video and additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain. More video from the meeting can be seen on this Vimeo playlist.

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Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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