Saturday, 2 March 2013

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Budget Meeting 28/2/13

Having spent most of Wednesday and Thursday in the great outdoors and in sunshine for a change, it could have been gloomy in the confines of the council chamber, coming straight from an exhilarating walk from Froghall up into the hills above Ipstones, as I did.  But it wasn't gloomy because for a change the public gallery was full and people were taking an interest in what the council were up to.  There were also protesters outside including some anti-cuts groups, unions and MarchOnStoke.

March On Stoke next meeting: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 7:00pm Temple Street Methodist Church Fenton

This was the full council meeting on the budget.  I'm not reporting on every speaker, just my selected highlights with times from the webcast.  Rather than being a budget, this is more about a list of cuts, £20.9 million this year, closures and job losses.  

Despite Labour councillors blaming the Tory government, they have been cutting and closing for a long time, even when their own Labour government had power and as Labour Council Leader Mohammed Pervez (0:25:29) stated, he expects cuts until the year 2020.  He doesn't make any statement about a Labour government doing anything different if they should gain power.  Mohammed Pervez talks about having a meaningful dialogue with the public but he doesn't seem to be listening to them!  Where I do agree though is on the policy of paying council workers (those who still have a job) the living wage. 

Independent Councillor Paul Breeze (0:40:05) is always well worth a listen.  This was a particularly excellent speech.  He highlighted the amount of interest we have to pay on loans the council takes out with no business plan, no risk assessment and no consultation!  He said that Labour treat the people of Stoke-on-Trent with contempt and accused them of "reckless, irresponsible, dictatorial, arrogant insanity".  Well said!  He was then accused by Lord Mayor Terry Crowe (0:42:26) of personalising things, but he didn't!  he wasn't being negative either, he proposed a list of alternatives which are (in brief):
1. Stop borrowing.
2. Release land to the potteries shopping centre which they will pay for with money now and create jobs.
3. Don't misuse public money on propaganda spreads in newspapers.
4. Scrap 'Our City' (Labour spin magazine).
5. Get rid of consultants and listen to people for free.
6. Use £180,000 from selling land at the potteries shopping centre to hold a referendum on whether people have confidence in the Labour council and executive.
7. Hold an election.
He also strongly stated the value of independent councillors not controlled by political parties and acting solely for and accountable to people and communities in the city.  I very much agree with this.

Independent Councillor Dave Conway (0:45:21) accused Labour of targetting rather than protecting the vulnerable and gave examples of cutting and closing care homes, swimming pools, lollipop crossings and pensioners bus passes.  He has a point here for sure, although he also criticised the council on potholes in the roads.  I don't agree with him on that because my experience in Trentham is that the council came round to fix a lot that appeared in the wet weather.  Dave Conway accused Mohammed Pervez of killing the city, he referred to the protest march and said people have had enough with the Labour council.

Independent Councillor Terry Follows (1:10:12) acknowledged that budgeting is difficult and he has seen councillors in tears over budgets in the past, but he objected to borrowing money for the council to move to the central business district and doesn't want to see Mohammed Pervez in tears over this.  He rubbished the idea of the police moving to the central business district because of the lack of parking.  He said there had been past protest marches localised to specific areas but the March On Stoke included people from all over the city.  He criticised the city's MPs for saying nothing, although I reported in my blog on the March On Stoke Rob Flello's support for the Labour council.

Conservative Councillor Abi Brown (1:26:36) criticised the use of money set aside for investment in projects for savings and being diverted into reserves and mentioned the bungle requiring money being paid back to the EU.

Conservative Councillor Jack Brereton (1:36:54) said the budget does not address jobs and growth as Labour claims.  He critcised council priorities and approach to children's safety in cuts in school crossing patrols.  He quoted the 2012 national highways survey which rated Stoke-on-Trent worst for road repairs and joint worst for road condition.  He suggested cutting 'Our City' magazine as the content is "pure fantasy".  I agree there!  He also very rightly pointed out that communication with residents, consultation and getting people involved is very poor.  He described the Labour plans as "crazy".  I agreed with much of what Jack Brereton said this time, I don't always agree but he does tend to present his case well.

Labour Councillor Ruth Rosenau (1:51:39) said she would rather not be elected because of making what she views as the "right choices".  Well, I hope her wish comes true and surely the right choices are to represent the people.

Independent Councillor Ann James (2:05:49) said Labour blame the Conservatives but she pointed out that the Labour government left the council £26million short of their allocation when they were in power.  She said the council were ignoring people's petitions.

It was then the turn of Councillor Mark Meredith to speak, at which point Lord Mayor Terry Crowe (2:11:25) admitted that the majority of us in the public gallery were being orderly but nevertheless chucked us all out because a few were shouting out.  I don't blame security, they were doing as they were told, but it would have been better if they had been asked to remove just those who were shouting.  The meeting was being broadcast in the Jubilee room upstairs from the council chamber for the overflow of people who had not got into the public gallery, so some of us proceeded there.

Labour Councillor Mark Meredith (2:12:57) talked his usual guff, a lot about business.  He claimed Labour were creating jobs but it does seem to me there are an awful lot of job losses.  He claimed the opposition hadn't provided an alternative, although they had and also claimed Labour were the only serious group.  Mark Meredith had become very unpopular when he was elected mayor, but let's face it, the people of Birches Head and Central Forest Park in their 'wisdom' put him back in the chamber as councillor, although they also did us a good turn in giving us Paul Breeze.  Maybe they are a bit of a mixed bag in that ward.

Independent Councillor Randy Conteh (2:18:14) said he did not condone unruly behaviour, I agree with him there, but said that meetings were in the evening to help involve the public and he didn't like the empty public gallery.  He moved a motion, which was lost, to go then to the vote.  I don't know what the councillors can see on their screens, but I would have been against the motion if there were still councillors who wanted to speak, whatever their political colour.  After all it is a full council and they all have a right to a say.  

Labour Councillor Andy Platt (2:21:52) talked about improving recycling rates, but as far as household waste is concerned they have cut it, as they have ceased to collect our kitchen and garden waste during the winter.

Labour Councillor Majid Khan (2:27:08) said that risk should be assessed.  Yes!  So where is the risk assessment for the central business district then?

Labour Council Leader Mohammed Pervez (2:30:14) as the budget proposer, then had his right of reply.  So he then had a go at the independents for forming a group and wrongly claimed they come to a united view.  But he knows full well that the reason the independents end up in a group is because the council is structured around groups and has group leaders meetings which exclude independents if they don't form a group.  Despite his claim Pervez then admitted that some independents had voted for a previous budget.  Some is not all and the truth is the independents, even within the city independent group, are not party whipped as Labour are.  Then the part which got the Jubilee room in a bit of an uproar was Pervez repeating his admission that he does not know what the total cost of the move of the civic centre to Hanley would be because he doesn't know what is going to be borrowed and what interest is going to be paid.  Incredulously he doesn't seem to see the problem with this, he just doesn't get it.  This is what people have a huge problem with! 

Despite the seriousness of the crazy way Labour are leading the council, some of us in the Jubilee room were a little amused at Terry Crowe (2:45:10) stating the obvious "in favour of the budget you vote yes, against no".  The budget was of course passed because of the large Labour majority.  It was a named vote so people will be able to see how their own councillor voted in the meeting minutes.

While some of us were in the Civic Centre (Stoke), Sarah Gayton was filming outside and has produced some great videos which include interviews with members of the public, they are well worth a watch.

Video part 1

Video part 2

Video part 3


Nicky Davis: Nicky_Davis_
March on Stoke: #marchonstoke @MarchonStoke
Sarah Gayton: @farmersonfilm
Stoke-on-Trent City Council: @SOTCityCouncil #sotcc
Stoke-on-Trent City Councillors: my public list 'SOTcouncillors' including
@pervezstoke @terry_crowe53 @AbiBrown1 @CllrRuthRosenau @MarkMeredith01 @CllrAndyST4

No comments:

Post a Comment