Extraordinary scenes see meeting on Northants' £58m budget cuts held in private following protest

The scenes outside County hall this afternoon, where more than 70 people turned out to protest against stinging county council cuts.
The scenes outside County hall this afternoon, where more than 70 people turned out to protest against stinging county council cuts.
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Campaigners against massive cuts to Northamptonshire County Council services were thrown out of a vital cabinet meeting after one speaker handed the council leader a Valentine's heart.

A fiery County Hall summit this afternoon saw proceedings halted on three occasions when speakers went over their allotted two minutes or calls were made from the public gallery.

The vital cuts cabinet meeting was taken into chambers after just 30 minutes this afternoon.

The vital cuts cabinet meeting was taken into chambers after just 30 minutes this afternoon.

The authority is proposing to cut £58m from its budget by getting rid of 130 staff, reviewing the way Olympus Care Services works and making £25m worth of savings in adult social services.

More than 70 people from Save Northants Services, the Fire Brigades Union, the Communications Workers Union, Dostiyo and more attended a protest before the meeting, which saw the draft cuts proposals approved behind closed doors.

But members of the public were asked to leave about 30 minutes into the meeting when cabinet members were goaded from the public gallery.

Council leader Heather Smith (Con, Oundle) moved the cabinet from the Blue Room into the main chamber, emptying the public gallery in the process, saying into the microphone: "We cannot put up with this level of disruption."

Speakers had also remained determined to finish speeches beyond their allotted two minutes.

Paul Crofts, of Save Northants Services, even presented Cllr Smith with a Valentine's heart from Morrisons, saying “because she didn't have one”.

Amid calls to leave the speaker's podium, he said: "After the recent Surrey-gate tax scandal, will this council manage to negotiate the not-so-secret deal they brokered?"

Speaker Tony Banks called the council “gamblers” during his speech.

“You gambled that George Osborne would bail you out - he didn’t,” he said.

“You gambled that Theresa May would come to rescue you, she hasn’t.”

Mr Crofts, one of the organisers of the pre-meeting protest, said he was disappointed campaigners did not get the chance to remain in the meeting.

He said: “It shows they are spineless in the face of minimal opposition.

“There was no threat or anything of that kind.”

But he said that, in many ways, the protest was a “success”.

“It showed there was a lot of people that were very angry.”

The budget cuts are not set to be ratified until the full council meeting next week.