Salford’s mayor has denied an email calling on Labour members to attend a meeting was a ‘Stalinist’ attempt to stifle a protest over cuts.
Mayor Ian Stewart claimed that his message sent over the weekend asking members to come to the Wednesday budget meeting to ‘reduce the protest’ was to remind them that the meeting was taking place.
Mr Stewart also claimed that the current advanced ticketing system wouldn’t be used for Wednesday’s meeting.
He wrote: “This is a request for support at the council meeting on Wednesday, February 25 at 9.30am. The Labour council will be discussing the budget and are expecting there to be protests.
“We would like to reduce the protest by getting Labour supporters in the gallery. If you are able to come along you will need to be at the Civic Centre in Swinton by 9am and you will need a ticket.”
The Salford Mayor’s controversial request left campaigners in uproar who accused him of attempting to foil their right to protest.
He said: “The purpose of the email, sent last Saturday, was to make members aware of this important budget meeting and alerting members that we had been informed that campaign groups intended to hold a demonstration and that there may be a ticket system which has been in operation at council meetings in the past.”
Members from Salford UNITE and Salford Against Cuts will be among the demonstrators campaigning against plans to cut £30.722million in 2015 and 2016 from services including mental health care and children services.
If Labour members decide to attend the meeting, they would be able to book tickets in advance – an opportunity that isn’t given to the public.
For many campaigners, this was another blow to the public’s representation, which resulted in the mayor scrapping the booking process for the Wednesday meeting.
Mayor Stewart added: “The council subsequently made it known that on this occasion no ticket system will be operated by the Council and it will now be on a first come first served basis by queuing up at 8.30am on Wednesday morning.”
Steven North from Salford City UNISON believes that the operated ticketed system should be disregarded altogether as it could lead to ‘preferential treatment’.
He said: “It is important that everybody has the opportunity to be able to make their views known to the council, that’s the democratic process.
“We’re getting into a system where people have to get tickets, that inevitably means that it can lead to preferential treatment and then you’ve got to start thinking about who’s allocating the tickets and what basis are they allocated.
“We’ve never had a problem in terms of access to the council gallery before as far as I’m aware of and so I think the system as it at the moment works and that it doesn’t need changing.”