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Hopeless Lambeth council ignores trade unions and health service users

Kate | 18.12.2004 11:47 | Repression | London

Hopeless Lambeth council ignores trade unions and health service users, even though it was really hard to

Bad scene all round for Lambeth councillors this week: they had two demonstrations to sprint through to get to their council meeting, at least one of which they were still trying to ban as they galloped past it.

The Movement for Justice people were out again in good numbers to demand that the council reinstate sacked UNISON steward Alex Owolade as per an Employment Tribunal ruling.

Alex Owolade was sacked in 2001 for his union activities and for campaigning against racism at the council. The council appealed the tribunal’s decision and refused to take Alex Owolade back.

By yesterday afternoon, the council had also thrown out a motion and an emergency motion on Alex Owolade from Labour councillors, and banned Movement for Justice from bringing a deputation to speak to the council, on the grounds that Movement for Justice had brought deputations before.

Councillors who made it past that group were stopped on the stairs by users of local mental health services, who were concerned about a Lambeth proposal to withdraw funding from the Maudsley Hospital emergency clinic next April.

Mary Roberts, who was from the local Mental Health and Disabled Persons’ Action Group, said the plans to take funding from the emergency service would be tantamount to catastrophe for people who needed emergency mental-health intervention.

‘It’s [the clinic] open all day and it’s the first place that people can go when they have very serious mental health problems,’ she said. ‘They go there because they’re in a crisis. We think that they will put people in a situation where they commit suicide, and we think that suicide like that is a real risk, in those conditions where people have nowhere else to go.’

A comparatively high number of people in Lambeth suffer from mental health problems, and they use the clinic as a first port of call when looking for help. Protestor Denise McKenna said the group hoped to be admitted to the public gallery and thought that they might get a chance to speak at about 8pm.

They had missed the deadline for making an official request to bring a deputation, as well they might, given that people weren’t sure how the council’s processes worked, or how to respond to them at the speed that councils require. ‘I don’t know if they knew when the deadline was,’ Denise McKenna said. ‘It’s hard to work out.’

But anyway, and upstairs now for what, given the action outside, came across as an awesomely irrelevant emergency council meeting about parking. A deputation from the Thornton ward was allowed to speak very fast to parking plans in their neighbourhood: the two people from that deputation got 90 seconds speaking time, at least some of which was lost complaining about the council’s consultation process.

Someone from an organisation called the Clapham Controlled Parking Association (750 members), or something along those lines, demanded a fair and reasonable scheme that was run with justice and discretion.

Opposition councillors also demanded a system that was run as a fair scheme for constituents, rather than as a licence to print money, and noted that appeals against infringements were up by 71%. ‘Give Lambeth back fair parking!’ one of them said, to huge applause.

Outside the chamber, the emergency mental health clinic people gathered round their two handmade signs and waited for someone to approach them about approaching their councillors. ‘They’re going to close the clinic,’ Mary Roberts was saying again. ‘There’ll be nowhere to go.’

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