Stoke-on-Trent City Council set their budget today [Thursday] following a long and sometimes heated debate.
The motion in moving the budget, which includes cuts of some £35million and the closures of several key facilities, was eventually won by 40 votes in favour to 13 votes against.
In voting to accept the budget proposals, councillors have agreed to the closure of Shelton Pool, Burslem & Fenton Libraries, Park Hall Golf Course, 2 elderley care provisions and other valued services and public amenities.
Unless viable business proposals are submitted by community groups or social enterprises the city could also lose Ford Green Hall, the City Farm, Etruria Industrial Museum and the much publicised Tunstall Pool.
It was not all doom and gloom however as the council have confirmed that it is to retain all the City’s Children Centres, Stoke Speaks Out, Shopmobility and all Local Centres.
In moving the motion to commend the Budget, Council Leader Mohammed Pervez said that it was imperative that the council set a legal and balanced budget. He also confirmed that there is to be no Council Tax rise in the next municipal year.
Cllr Pervez told the chamber that it had been a long and hard road to get to the point where the cabinet were able to recommend this budget. He reminded the chamber that the council could not allow petty arguments to derail the process of agreeing this budget.
He said that the cabinet and the officers of the council had been composed, collected and considered as well as open and transparent during the consultation and the budget setting process.
Cllr Pervez reminded the chamber that Stoke-on-Trent City Council had been the 8th hardest hit authority in the country and that those councillors who had accused the cabinet of scaremongering should be glad that they had prepared for the worse case scenario.
The Community Voice group moved an amendment calling for a postponement in setting the budget as they believed that there had been insufficient Equality Impact Assessments carried out on all the budget proposals.
Community Voice spokesman Cllr Mike Barnes, said that the council needed to minimise risk and should heed the legal challenges relating to Equality Impact across other authorities across the country.
Cllr Barnes urged the cabinet to accept the need to dot every I and cross every “Ëœt’.
He condemned the documentation produced to support the budget proposals for failing to mention Equality.
Fellow Community Voice Councillor Mick Salih criticised the cabinet and council officers for not handing round the printed amendment to the substantive motion before the meeting.
He also stated that he was unable to support the budget because there were a number of proposals in it that were still under negotiation. He said that it would be wrong to pass an holistic budget when a large amount of the fine detail was not known.
Deputy Council Leader Ross Irving [Conservative] said that legal clarification was necessary and suggested that the legal officer should address the chamber and give his opinion on whether there was an issue with regards to Equality Impact.
Paul Hackney gave a long and detailed assessment of the situation and concluded that in his opinion the Council had carried out the necessary assessments with regard to Equality and that they has shown due regard during the budget consultations, overview and scrutiny processes and in the final proposals.
Community Voice’s amendment was defeated heavily.
There was a long, passionate, heated and sometimes angry debate in the chamber on the substantive motion of adopting the budget proposals.
The debate was divided between primarily those councillors in the four-way coalition parties of Labour, Conservative and Independent Allliance, Liberal Democrat and City Independent Group [apart from Cllr Dave Conway who refused to support the budget] and those councillors in opposition.
The coalition councillors condemned the opposition councillors, especially the Community Voice group, for playing to the public gallery and for not providing an alternative to the budget proposals.
The opposition councillors especially Community Voice criticised the coalition for not listening to the residents of the city.
Cllr Peter Kent-Baguley accused the cabinet of lacking political judgement and of having no clear criteria in setting this budget.
Cabinet Councillors rebuked the accusations by saying that the criteria was always to protect the most vulnerable and needy in the city.
This meeting was one of the longest in recent times. Passions and emotions were running high. Coalition councillors constantly referred to the need to accept the financial situation imposed on the city by the National Coalition Government.
Coalition Councillors also spoke about taking political responsibility and demonstrating clear leadership in formulating this budget.
Opposition Councillors spoke of the hardship that the citizens and residents of the city will have to endure as a result of these levels of cuts.
No matter what the political persuasion it was evident that the burden of public duty was wearing hard on all the councillors within the chamber.
The opposition councillors gave it heir best shot and the coalition councillors stood firm in the face of adversity and backed their cabinet colleagues.
We have a series of Audio Interviews to bring you.
First one is with Cllr Mike Barnes from the Community Voice group who explains why they were seeking a postponement of a budget decision. This was recorded before the meeting.
Then we hear from Matt Wright from the Socialist Party who explains why his North Staffs Against Cuts group were urging councillors to reject the budget proposals.
A member of the Socialist Workers Party was ejected from the council chamber during the meeting for causing a disturbance.
Next up we hear from Liz from Trent Vale who was also asked to leave the chamber for trying [very peacefully] to address the councillors in the chamber to get support for Shelton Pool and from a member of the action group fighting to save Shelton Pool.
And finally we hear from the four leaders of the coalition groups on the City Council, Cllr Mohammed Pervez [Labour], Cllr Ross Irving [Conservative & IA], Cllr Kieran Clarke [Lib Dem] and Cllr Brian Ward [City Independents] who give their reaction to winning the vote on the budget.