|Thursday afternoon saw hundreds of demonstrators take to the streets of Brighton to protest against swingeing cuts due to be proposed at a Council budget meeting that evening. The march was led and organised by Brighton Parents Against Childrens Centre Closures, a campaign which has sought to protect services offering support and advice to local families.
The march began in central Brighton and led to Hove Town Hall where Brighton & Hove City Councillors were meeting to discuss and vote on the coming years budget. The Green Party minority administration has controversially proposed a Council Tax hike of 5.9% in order to partly offset the massive cuts to Local Government funding, a move which looks set to be fiercely opposed by both Labour and Conservative representatives. However even a 5.9% rise in Council Tax would necessitate extensive local savings. This has led some local Green’s to speak out and call for a “no cuts” approach. Green Councillor Alex Phillips briefly left the meeting to address protesters and pledge to vote against all cuts proposed, prompting large cheers from the crowd.
Leila Erin-Jenkins, a local parent who has led the campaign against the closures, explained why she was marching:
"This is the last chance to save our Children's Centre and Library Groups and to oppose Austerity in all its forms. We stand united as we say ‘No more taking essential services from the most vulnerable’ ".
Following a campaign by sections of the local media the council had pledged to protect the Childrens Centres from the worst of the cuts but the group rejected this offer and reaffirmed their opposition to all cuts.
Parents were joined by an assortment of other local groups including Brighton People’s Assembly, Left Unity, Brighton Benefits Campaign and students from the city’s two universities. Lois McKendrick, a Fine Art student, explained why she thought it was necessary to link up with other causes:
“As a student involved in the Brighton Free Education campaign, I feel it is important for us to show solidarity with other local campaigns protesting against various austerity measures. Cuts should not be made within the public sector, and the struggles against them should not be divided.”
Whether or not councillors accept the Green proposal for a 5.9% increase in Council Tax (which would have to go to city wide referendum for approval) or go for a more moderate rise of some 2% the inevitable outcome is massive and sustained cuts to local services. On today’s showing any party wanting to implement such a program will face a strong fight-back from angry local residents.