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Lancashire County Council budget cuts meeting hit by protests
PROTEST Samantha Welch from Blackburn makes her feelings known about cuts against disabled children outside County Hall in Preston. Her brother, Jon-Curtis, visits the Maplewood House respite facility
POLICE were called on at County Hall for the first time in living memory today as protesters disrupted a crucial budget meeting.
Members of Lancashire County Council were voting on their budget for the next three years, which includes cuts of £179million.
The measures will see the closure of at least one respite care home in the county, cuts to social services and bus routes, and an as-yet unspecified number of job losses.
Conservative council leader Geoff Driver insisted respite care, which provides temporary relief for people who have to look after relatives full-time, would not be reduced overall.
He said the centres were underused, although this was disputed by opposition councillors.
Relatives who use respite centres were among the protesters in the public gallery.
Among them was 53-year-old Frances Maguire, who lives in Chorley, who said she had ‘lost faith’ in the council to help her care for her elderly mother.
There were also representatives of charities on behalf of blind people and those with learning difficulties.
They were joined by a vocal group called Preston Against Cuts, including trade union representatives.
When the meeting got underway a woman, who said she was the parent of a disabled child, was asked to leave when she stood up to ask a question.
Other members of the public gallery started chanting and the meeting was adjourned as the chair ordered the gallery to be cleared by four police officers.
The meeting was adjourned while police ejected some of the protesters, and then again when the fire alarm sounded and County Hall was evacuated.
Coun Driver, who had to pause while the meeting chairman addressed the public gallery, said the council’s financial outlook was the worst he could remember in 40 years of local government.
He refused to blame the Government for the spending cuts, focusing instead on Labour — drawing shouts from the gallery.
And he admitted frontline services would be affected, with the decision to close at least one respite care centre proving particularly tough.
He said: “These are not any easy decisions, and no decent human being could fail to be moved by the upset we know this will cause.”
When he drew the meeting to a close, Coun Driver criticised the protesters, including the mother of a disabled child who had been ejected.
He said: “At that moment she was not the mother of a disabled child, she was an unruly member of the public who was disrupting a council meeting.”
Labour group leader Jennifer Mein said she was ‘terribly ashamed’ at the police presence and the ejection of the mother of a disabled child from the meeting.
She also attacked plans to increase the fees paid to care home providers by four per cent.
Her Labour colleague, Clive Grunshaw, said Lancashire’s Sure Start centres were facing cuts of 12.9 per cent.
The Lib Dems put forward an alternative budget to spend less on roads and more on young people’s services.
Meanwhile the Green Party members called on councillors to cut their annual £88,000 mileage bill.
The Conservatives’ budget, which also included a council tax freeze and extra investment in highways, was eventually passed after more than four hours by 42 votes to 23.
The Lancashire Telegraph provided live updates from the meeting. Click on 'play' below to replay the event.