Friday, 24 February 2012

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Budget Meeting 23/2/12

I present here an account of the points I picked out from the Stoke-on-Trent City Council budget meeting on 23rd February 2012, which amazingly I did manage to get to and observe in person this time.  What was with the security on the door council?  They had been told not to let anyone in after the meeting started.  I do agree with a principle of punctuality but the council has to realise that despite the economic situation, some of us are actually still in employment and have work to do beforehand.   I was a couple of minutes late but it took some persistent persuasion to get in.  Council, you should do better than this, leave the back door open or let the public slip in at a convenient point in the proceedings and instruct security staff appropriately.  Once in, I found the public gallery was fairly full.  I give times from the webcast and some of my observations and views.

Cllr Mohammed Pervez (0:18:49) blamed the Tory LibDem government but said he was determined to cut year on year, £36million last year, £24million this year, towards a balanced budget by the end of the comprehensive spending review period.  Of course he claimed they have listened but is committed to privatisation schemes such as that of closing council run care homes.  He claimed not to be letting residents down!  He also stated that a vote against the budget is a vote against jobs in the city, which met with murmers of incredulity around the public gallery, seeing as they are making massive redundancies.  He did quote £400,000 being spent on economic development, marketing and promoting the city.  One of the things I object to is them squandering resources on promoting themselves in glossy publications etc.  He mentioned that the council is contributing £60million to BSF. 

Whilst there are some nice refurbishments, BSF has been a most shameful attack by the previous Labour government and our Labour council; scrapping community schools, closing schools and disrupting communities.  We had to fight tooth and nail to keep Trentham High School and were not supported by our Tory councillors at the time, who we subsequently booted out.  The Tories continue the attack on schools, forcing academies against the will of communities.  All this and there are still insufficient pupil places as I have reported.  I have emailed Cllr Debra Gratton twice now, requesting updated pupil projections, I have not yet received a reply.

Mohammed Pervez did make a couple of valid points though.  They are updating homes to reduce heat loss, this is indeed a sensible move.  Much better than some of the other things they have done such as flatten areas of the city and get their sums wrong in the decision to demolish rather than renovate.  The other thing he said is that people elected them, it’s a fair point, they did, they voted Labour in the city, they voted for these cuts.  I didn’t, I voted independent in Hanford and Trentham, but it’s a democracy and I live with the consequences of how the masses voted in other parts of the city.

Cllr Paul Breeze (0:35:10) is not one to hold back in expressing a view.  He said he couldn’t support the council tax rise and budget and said decades of Labour control and Labour MPs have not been good for the city.  He accused Labour of being arrogant dismissive intolerant control freaks, very accurate I think.  He also said they only listen when their backs are against the wall and reminded us how they deceived people over children’s  centres.  He quoted Mohammed Pervez from last year, election year, we are going to freeze council tax to take advantage of the government initiative", "during these austere times it would be unreasonable to put an even  greater financial burden on the residents of Stoke-on-Trent".  This year council tax is being increased, obviously because this time it is not an election year.  Labour undemocratically and despicably took away our elections by thirds.  Paul Breeze is good to listen to, he is not one to be fooled by Labour.

Cllr Ann James (0:40:10) also spoke out well, criticising cutting adults and children’s services but investing in regeneration.  She said that residential homes in the private sector are not well monitored.  She also complained about not being able to get proper information from officers to put forward an alternative budget, describing this as a farce.  I have heard this before from opposition councillors.  She said an alternative suggestion for housing had not been accepted.

Cllr Olwen Hamer (0:45:15) claimed the council tax rise will support the poor in the city.  She apologised to care home residents and their families about issues they had had, but said the council works closely with the care quality commission, an investigation was carried out and nothing was found.   This rather proves Ann James’ point I think. Olwen Hamer’s comments generated angry grumblings in the public gallery.

Cllr Bagh Ali (0:46:56)accused Ann James of misleading the public, reporting that she had said she would vote against the budget without discussion.

Cllr Abi Brown (0:48:46) said 737 people voted for her on a principle of low council tax, she wanted common sense savings involving more economical use of buildings and postage and the council not funding union representatives.  She pointed out that Labour squanders a lot of money in interest payments.

Cllr Karen Clarke (0:52:06) made some sensible points about the privatisation of care homes leading to poorer terms and conditions for staff and concern over quality of service, but said she would support the budget.  Well, she’s Labour, so I imagine she’s been whipped to.

Cllr Joy Garner (0:57:21) blamed the government and said the council needs to spend money on redundancy payments.

Cllr Jack Brereton (1:00:57) said the council tax rise will hit some of the worst off and criticised the council’s approach.  He called the consultation a charade and said it wasn’t transparent or inclusive.  I would agree with him on this.   I was one of the 900 who responded but only on specific issues, especially the removal of help with bus fares for 16-18 year old students attending college, not that it got me anywhere.  I think that just shows how little value the council places on the education of our young people.  I didn’t respond on the entire budget on account of the document being so opaque and knowing they wouldn’t value my view anyway.

Cllr Martin Garner (1:04:07) had a general go at the Tory government and accused the Conservative and Independent councillors of being unfit.

Cllr Adrian Knapper (1:06:04) said, amidst guffaws of laughter from the public gallery, that he would not turn his back on the city.  His emphasis was all about helping business and promoting image.  Labour propaganda again then.

Cllr Tom Reynolds (1:09:17) supported the rise in council tax to increase the base from which to raise it further.

Cllr Dave Conway (1:11:21) presented a long list of criticisms of the Labour budget, pointing out that they have been cutting for years so can’t just blame the Tories.  He presented some previous quotes from Mark Meredith while the Labour government were in power, including “at a time of economic uncertainty and through these difficult times, the last thing people need at the moment is a big council tax rise“ and “we need to keep investing to create jobs”.  But Adrian Knapper had just said 73 people are chasing each job, showing Mark Meredith didn’t create the jobs he said he would.  Dave Conway asked how many of Labour would vote with their conscience today and prove themselves true socialists.  Needless to say they didn’t and they’re not.

Cllr Gwen Hassall (1:18:53) admitted they were all to blame but said they must ‘move forward’, whatever that means.

Cllr Sarah Hill (1.21.12) said she didn’t like Paul Breeze calling them names, but called the independent contributions pathetic.  She did agree with Abi Brown’s suggestions.  She said she cannot sleep at night.

Cllr Mark Meredith (1:25:09) said he smelled the scent of hypocrisy from the opposition and praised his former Labour government.  He seemed most concerned about roads with not a mention about actual people.

Cllr Terry Crowe (1:30:21) in a fit of extreme blandness said that Labour had listened and would take the city forward.  To me it seems the ‘forward’ direction they are taking us is over the precipice into catastrophe.

Cllr Alan Dutton (1:33:31) wimpishly said they have no choice.

Cllr Paul Shotton  (1:36:30) rightly pointed out that there were cuts under a Tory/Independent/LibDem cabinet.  He also seemed a bit obsessed about buildings and roads.

Although these cuts are not at all a laughing matter, I have to say that the summing up by Mohammed Pervez (1:40:04) did provide a bit of comedy.  He started off with a mantra to himself “I shall remain calm”.  It didn’t work!  He raised his voice and ended up hitting the bench.  You will have to watch it to get the most from it.

Lord Mayor Terry Follows (1:47:05) thanked Mohammed Pervez for his "calm and measured"  summing up.  A named vote was agreed.  The vote was 31 (Labour) for the budget and council tax rise and 8 (Independent and Conservative) against.  I think Terry Follows didn’t vote and as there had been 3 apologies for absence; Cllrs Conteh, Day and Lilley, that leaves one Labour councillor unaccounted for.  The minutes will reveal who.

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