Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Budget Meeting 27/2/14

I thought depending on circumstances that I may attend this meeting but in the end had other priorities. It is good to have the webcast to catch up from in any case. 

This was the full council meeting on the budget. Rather than being a budget in the normal sense of the word, a large focus of the council's budget is on what they can cut and close. Much of the budget discussion is political hot air with the Labour council blaming the Conservative government, although back in the days of the last Labour government, the council were cutting and closing things just the same. Labour Council Leader Mohammed Pervez stated at last year's budget council that he expects cuts until the year 2020, there was no statement about a Labour government doing anything different if they should gain power.

Despite the mundane political sniping, there were a few comments worth noting (webcast times given in brackets). Mohammed Pervez (00:13:03) referred to a consultation regarding the budget.  The number one concern was cuts to the demonstrators at Gladstone pottery museum; Mohammed Pervez reported that demonstrators will now be kept but that the museum will be closed on its quietest days, Sunday and Monday. He also reported that prosecutions are being made for litter and fly tipping. I certainly hope that prosecutions will continue and intensify as there is far too much fly tipping and littering in the city. However he also mentioned the incredible amount of money being spent in Hanley. To me this is such a waste and could be better spent. We don't need unnecessary new council buildings. If companies want to build in Hanley then fine, but it shouldn't be for the council to squander money on, they should be focusing on local services for people.

Independent Councillor Dave Conway (0:29:03) was not happy with many of the cuts suggested, especially pay and conditions for low paid council workers, spoke out against the money squandered on the central business district and press officers and 'spin' and said he won't support the budget although opposing it won't make a scrap of difference.  He is right, against a whipped Labour majority the opposition cannot change the outcome.

Independent Councillor Paul Breeze (1:08:47) welcomed the council tax freeze but aside from that had a good go at the Labour group. He was frustrated that suggestions the opposition make are totally ignored. He mentioned 'Our City' magazine which he would like to see cut. I agree wholeheartedly, it is a waste of council tax payers money on what is essentially in my view Labour propaganda. He also mentioned the new bus station being too small and market traders suffering because bus stops have moved.  A gem of a quote aimed at Labour was that "reality will bite you on the bottom"!

Conservative Councillor Abi Brown (1:14:50) raised an interesting point about the Gladstone pottery. She talked in some depth about the Sunday closing, raising the issue that although average attendance is low, when special events are on it is high. Personally I can see the point in closing on days when there is low demand, but it's easy just to close things, I think it would be better to look first at improvements that could be made that would increase visitor numbers.

An issue of particular importance in my part of the city is Trentham library. This was the number two concern in the council's own consultation. But the council are to close it completely despite a high level of popularity and usage and low running costs. There is little evidence that I can see of any detailed thought or commitment from the council's Labour group or officers to alternative provision. However, there is an active local group, the 'Trentham Centre Association' campaigning for this, helped by our two councillors. These two councillors spoke as follows.

Independent Councillor Terry Follows (1:46:38) spoke against the closure of Trentham library to save just £40,000 per year, especially when it's one of the best used in the city for the time it's open, on 3 days a week.  He raised the importance of education and pointed out that there is no library in the nearby Trentham High School. Well it seems to me it's just a land grab! I attended just the first half hour of a meeting on 3/3/14. The BBC report states that any alternative "would not involve keeping the existing building open".

Independent Councillor Peter Hayward (1:48:58) accused Labour of ignorance or arrogance because they use the ridiculous argument that the thousands of people who don't respond to their consultation are in agreement with them. 

Of course the budget and cuts were voted through (2:29:27), because of Labour's majority.


Nicky Davis: Nicky_Davis_
Stoke-on-Trent City Council: @SOTCityCouncil #sotcc
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