Angry protesters brought West Sussex County Council’s budget meeting to a standstill.
Members of the campaign group Don’t Cut Us Out disrupted the full council meeting yesterday, which they dubbed the “Valentine’s Day Massacre” over the budget cuts which will result from the agreed council tax freeze.
Protesters had gathered outside county hall in Chichester to demonstrate against the 2014 to 2015 budget, which will reduce spending by £55 million over the next two years.
Chairwoman Amanda Jupp was forced to adjourn the meeting due to the shouting and heckling from the public gallery and some Conservative councillors walked out.
There were tears as protesters voiced their concerns about the budget to those councillors who remained.
After ten minutes the councillors returned and the meeting continued with council leader Louise Goldsmith calling the budget “sound, traditional and practical”.
She said: “We have to balance our revenue budget just as a household has to balance its monthly expenditure against its monthly income.”
Labour leader Brenda Smith abandoned her speech to express her disapproval of the Tory walk-out.
She said: “I’m ashamed to be in this chamber. I was really upset that people who have taken the trouble to come here in the most appalling weather outside County Hall, to speak to us as elected members, have not been listened to.”
Conservative councillors, who hold a majority, were also criticised by Labour councillor Chris Oxlade.
He said: “It was really horrible to see you lot going out and having tea and biscuits while people sat up there crying “ Ms Goldsmith furiously rebuffed claims they had been uncaring.
She said: “We do care. We care by being practical and thoughtful, and thoughtful of the taxpayer’s money.”
The budget was voted in by 42 votes to 15 with 10 abstentions.
Campaigner Barry Pickthall, 64, of Walberton, whose son has Down’s Syndrome and has seen the cost of his care rise by £25 a week, said: “Most of the conservatives traipsed out, but the others stayed in and listened, and this then formed a major part of the debate.
“We’ve just got to get people to understand what this council is doing. They just don’t care, full stop. Not just about us, but about the vulnerable either.”