National campaigners Sisters Uncut staged a protest in the public gallery of a Full Council meeting yesterday following a passionate plea from Chief Executive of charity Aurora New Dawn to protect local domestic violence services. By Sarah Cheverton.
Local campaigners UP Antifascists joined with trade union and anti-austerity protesters at a rally in the Guildhall Square protesting cuts to public services ahead of a Full Council meeting on Budget Savings for 2016/17.
Following the rally, Shonagh Dillon, Chief Executive of Hampshire charity Aurora New Dawn, which works with victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Portsmouth, gave the following deputation to Portsmouth councillors.
The council budget savings report proposes to cut the specialist, in-house domestic abuse service, the Early Intervention Project, from 13 members of staff to 5.
Aurora New Dawn absolutely opposes these cuts, and here are just some of the reasons why.
Portsmouth City Council has a public duty to protect the vulnerable. This duty extends not only to victims whose lives are devastated by domestic abuse every day, but also to thousands of children who deserve lives free of danger and fear.
We believe the process by which these cuts were suggested is flawed, particularly in the failure of the Council to consult with the myriad of organisations whose services intersect with your own. This partnership working ensures that Portsmouth currently offers 24/7 support to victims in the city.
Aurora provides a DVA cars service out of hours that refers these victims to EIP. This and many projects like it have been endorsed by the Safer Portsmouth Partnership and the city council. It makes no sense not to consult with other service providers and it makes no sense to withdraw the service, which captures hundreds of victims that might not otherwise have accessed help.
This brings me to the serious danger these cuts will create for victims. Since 2011, Portsmouth, to the envy of the rest of Hampshire, have not had a domestic murder, which is a testament to the investment of the council and the voluntary sector in this city thus far. However, these cuts will mean that the vital work of murder prevention will not occur. I have worked in this sector for over 20 years and I can tell you that without these services, victims will be killed.
Of course, in a few years’ time, Councillors can change their minds, realise their mistake, reinvest the money. But you will not be able to restore a murdered mother to her children, a daughter to her parents, a friend to her community. These cuts are literally playing with people’s lives.
In closing I would like to bring your attention to the people protesting outside and to the 42,000 signatures gathered within a week opposing these cuts on a petition – please recognise that the eyes of the country are on Portsmouth today.
I challenge councillors to ask their conscience how much opposition from their own constituents they need before they listen to them.
Councillors from the opposition Liberal Democrat party and the public gallery erupted into a long applause as Ms Dillon stopped speaking. Shortly after, demonstrators from national direct action group Sisters Uncut broke the rules of the council chamber by unfurling a banner that read: CUTTING DV SERVICES KILLS WOMEN.
Despite attempts from security guards to remove the banner, Sisters Uncut protesters held on to it as they chanted ‘They cut, we bleed’ and loudly beat a drum. Spectators in the public gallery cheered and joined in.
The Council meeting was temporarily adjourned and was reconvened when protesters left the public gallery of their own accord. Several opposition councillors remained in the Council chamber but most Conservative councillors took the opportunity to leave.
When the meeting was reconvened, Council Leader Donna Jones said she had spoken to the Sisters Uncut demonstrators before the meeting and had pledged to work with them to lobby the Conservative government about cuts to domestic violence services being carried out by the Conservative-led administration in Portsmouth.
In her introduction to the budget, Cllr Donna Jones said that the funding reductions to the Early Intervention Project were not cuts. She explained that savings could be made to the service as EIP staff could deal more effectively with domestic abuse if they weren’t ‘sat behind pcs’. Her remarks caused some consternation in the public gallery as the Leader seemed to be accusing staff from the Council’s own nationally accredited service for domestic abuse of incompetence and/or laziness.
Sisters Uncut responded to the Leader’s remarks on Twitter:
— Sisters Uncut (@SistersUncut) December 8, 2015
However, the Leader stood by her comments, tweeting during the budget meeting:
@SandCPompey so true!
— Donna Jones (@DonnaPCC) December 8, 2015
With much of the debate dominated by party political in-fighting between former Council Leader Gerald Vernon Jackson and current Leader Donna Jones, the budget was finally put to a vote after hours of debate. Councillors voted to pass the Conservative administration’s budget with 24 in favour, 12 against and 3 abstentions.
Closing the debate, Lord Major Frank Jonas said, “There were quite a few outbursts tonight but on the whole I think we were sort of friendly.
“…I believe we’ve got to do this again in February, so have a nice Christmas, won’t you.”
Photography by Sarah Cheverton. Video from Spotted Portsmouth.