Never got round to finishing my blog post last Thursday on the outcome of the full council budget vote. It's now local knowledge that the LibDem plan was defeated and the alternative budget won the day - free school meals for primary school children and £100 rebate on council tax for pensioners. It was a long meeting, full of drama, only ending after 11pm when the LibDem administration finally conceded defeat.
This weeks local newspapers are full of various opinions - some for and some against. Even Jamie Oliver had added his pennyworth - TV’S JAMIE: MY FEARS OVER FREE DINNERS.
Most schools seem to welcome the initiative - Primary schools lap up free meals.
Nitsa Sergides, headteacher of Grafton Primary School, in Holloway, said: “It’s absolutely fantastic that all children will have the same opportunity to have the same meals, regardless of affordability. For families on pretty low incomes who do not qualify for a free school meal because they are just over the threshold, this will be absolutely fantastic. It will also take away discrimination.”
She added: “This is just at the right time, with all the financial difficulty out there and the credit crunch. At least we can be sure our little ones get one warm meal a day.”
Echoing Ms Sergides's sentiment - this evening I was on the phone to a co-committee member when by sheer coincidence, the topic came up. She's a young lady for whom I have a great deal of respect, a divorcee with three young children who refuses to claim benefits preferring to work. However, with no other income other than her salary it's not easy for her to make ends meet. She told me just how much in monetary terms the saved income will mean to her each week.
We will have to wait and see how the programme will be implemented. It's appreciated that the funding of it all is a real concern but for the sake of the children, roll on September 2009 when it will kick off.
The news of £100 rebate for pensioners has also generally been received with excitement but as expected the pessimists have raised concerns
Pensioners and groups supporting the elderly welcomed the £100 windfall, but feared services might suffer cuts to pay for the rebate.
Age Concern Islington chief executive Deborah Fowler said: “The tax rebate will be welcome to the many pensioners living on low incomes in Islington but it’s important that services for older people are not cut while finding the savings to fund this rebate.”George Durack, chairman of Islington Pensioners Forum, said: “I was delighted that the pensioners are going to get some money and the children are going to get their dinners. It’s marvellous.
The over all political effect is a crushing blow to the Lib Dem administration but the Council Leader James Kempton is defiant - We're still in charge say Lib-Dems after Council Tax defeat. There may be claims the local party is in a buoyant mood but the weakness of the present leadership is beginning to show though the cracks.