Friday, 27 February 2015

Tory budget amendments blocked

In his budget speech Cllr Ron Woodley attempted to justify his refusal to accept the 5 budget amendments put forward by the Conservative Group.

In my years as Leader the members of the opposition groups would allege that my colleagues were subject to a party whip. In fact in my 7 years as Leader I never attempted to impose a whip preferring to gain support on the basis of the strength of my argument. Having said that if the members of the Indie, Labour and Lib Dem Groups were not subject to a whip then I can’t believe that they were persuaded by the strength of Cllr Woodley’s comments.

On the rejection of the Conservative proposed council tax freeze and acceptance of the Government subsidy Ron took exception to the proposed reduction in the senior management team, reduction of a cabinet post and removal of free hospitality. He asked the Conservatives to point out the officers sitting behind him who were to go. This would be well and good if he were not making any job cuts in his proposals but of course he is. I didn’t see the staff members who he has put at risk standing at the back of the chamber so that they could be identified by him. In previous years the opposition groups have argued that redundancies should extend to all officer levels so what is the problem with this proposal. If the number of chief officers reduce then so can the number of cabinet posts. As for free refreshments – why is the argument different to the removal of free council teas? The facility can be there but charged at cost.

On car parks he claimed that the proposal had the support of traders. Not the ones I have spoken to! What is the logic of removing charges on the seafront in the evening where car parks are often full with visitors to the town who will not be expecting free parking but at the same time increasing charges for town centre car parks when retailers are continuing to suffer. I still suspect that this will rebound with reduced users resulting in income targets not being reached. Obviously the cabinet have their free parking permits for all Council car parks so I suppose they are not too worried.

He countered the objection to the removal of litter bins referring to alleged improvements in the street cleaning contract and also commented that he expected residents to take their litter home rather than dropping it. If he is so confident then why not remove all the bins and make an even bigger saving? The reality is that without well located litter bins the level of litter will increase.

He justified increasing the cost of entrance to the Pier by suggesting that every house will have an Advantage Card. Not sure if he meant he was going to issue them free to all residents or that the opportunity to purchase was there. If the former then the effect could undermine income targets across a number of services and if the latter why does he expect a greater take up on the cards than has happened previously?

Finally on doorstep textile collection Ron said that he gave his spare textiles to charity and that opportunity existed for everyone else. He misses the point that for recycling to work it has to be easy and accessible. This is how rates have been driven up and the amount of textile collection which is now being jeopardised amounts to many tons each year. If a significant percentage of those textiles end up in landfill he will have cost the authority far more than his proposed saving.

I would not suggest that these proposals were perfect. As an opposition it is difficult to identify specific funding without the pro active support of officers and accordingly compromises have to be made, but where the cuts proposed by the Administration are as poor as is the case here, it justifies a more broad brush approach. The reality remains that if we had a Conservative Administration these actions would have been implemented as part of an overall budget which would have created a more secure base moving forward.

In the meantime those councillors who blocked the amendments will need to justify their votes to the electorate.

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