Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Full council - a serious business - everything but the grass cut

This is my personal recollection.

Last night was full council and it was a meeting which included some cross party work and sensible discussion.  But it also included the first round of the budget cuts being brought for debate.  The Conservative, Cllr Stevens (he never seems to enjoy\ political disagreement, I think he would rather that we were in a board meeting, but is pleasant enough) presented a list of cuts that although incomplete are pretty dramatic.  I am sure some of them are part of the management action that we would have undertaken but others are certainly not.  It's very sad reading and I have as others have I'm sure spent the last couple of weeks since they were published poring over them.

Anyway I was prepared to accept at face value his 'assurance' that 'no-one on our side enjoyed making these decisions'.  I like to give my opponents the benefit of the doubt, and at least he was accepting that they were choices, even if we would have made different ones.

But then Cllr WIllis, who ought to know better in a speech attacking Labour said (and I wrote it down verbatum, because I was so shocked).  "These cuts, most of which are imaginary anyway...".

Imaginary cuts?  That sounds better.  Maybe I should explain that to the front line staff in Whitley who are already being made redundant and the children who are going to miss out on the support they have benefited from?  Or the parents across the borough who will have to pay more for school meals or the elderly who won't be getting social care any more? Or the graffiti artists who will no longer get their graffiti removed (OK so that's one group that will be happy about a cut).  This will be a budget in which everything but the grass will be cut.  To suggest that this is all 'imaginary' is quite simply insulting.

Cllrs Lovelock and Orton on our side proposed an amendment that committed the council to seeking markets for its services to raise income.  Many of our services are top-notch and there is a demand from housing associations, other councils and of course the private sector for what we do, and if we can raise income from this it will, as Mike Orton pointed out, spread overheads and raise the council money too.

Despite the Lib-dem's efforts the Conservatives accepted this amendment as it is just good sense, it proves that we are offering constructive alternatives, and once the detailed budget comes forward there will be more debate to be had.  It will be hard as the Conservatives have a majority due Lib-dem collusion, but we will argue for the things we believe in.

Having at least reduced the impact of the motion we then voted against it.  Despite the Conservatives trying to make out this was a volte-face this was our plan all along.  As there is at least one former parliamentary candidate in both the Conservative and Lib-dem groups they should know that this is common practice in parliament too:  you vote to amend a bill you don't like to reduce it's negative impact, and then you vote against it as you still can't support it in its entirety.

There was some light relief:  Cllr Pugh managed to bring pigs, the EU and his age into a supplementary question on the progress being made on recycling of food waste.  Apparently it is all Europe's fault.
Cllr Swaine accused us of proposing privatisation when in fact what we were suggesting comes closer to nationalisation (maybe borough-isation?) and Cllr Watson gave the standards board 'usual suspects' a good ticking off.