Wednesday February 24, 2010
By JOSH LOEB
CAMPAIGNERS fighting to keep Camden's computer centres open will make a last ditch attempt for funding at a council meeting on Monday.
The Town Hall is proposing cuts to the budget for UK Online, a scheme set up by the government to give users of community centres the chance to get logged onto the internet - including the council's own. People use the service to find out about jobs and housing and benefits.
Under the plans, funding would be completely withdrawn from five of the centres and considerably reduced for the others
A coalition of community centre managers and service users is calling for £170,000 from the council's £750,000 “recession pot” – a fund set aside to combat the ill effects of the credit crunch – which it says would enable the service to be maintained at current levels.
Harun Kaji, a senior youth worker at the Marchmont Street Community Centre, warned the cuts would have “dreadful results” for those searching for work.
He said: “The service is free. Everything is online these days. Lots of people can't afford broadband and if they are not able to access the internet, things will be very difficult for them.”
Simon Mills, a funding and policy writer for the Camden Society, said: “These centres are in some of the most deprived areas of Camden. They give people the chance to access the internet to take English classes with support from staff at the centres.”
Milena Nuti, chair of the board of trustees of the King's Cross-Brunswick Neighbourhood Association, said: “This is a much used service. It is not a service that is flagging. It could double in size but the council is pulling the rug from under us.”
A petition calling on the council to reconsider the cuts has been signed by over 330 people.
Labour councillor Theo Blackwell will table a motion calling for funding to UK Online centres to be maintained at current levels for next tax year by means of the recession fund if necessary.
But Lib Dem councillor for Kentish Town Ralph Scott, who has responsibility for the fund, suggested campaigners would have to look elsewhere for the money.
He warned the “lion's share” had already been “spent or earmarked for other projects”, adding that if money is diverted to UK Online, it would result in cuts to other council services.
His Lib Dem colleague, Kentish Town councillor Nick Russell, said: “There are lots of good causes and lots of people asking for money from the council at a time of budget cuts.”