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The purpose of this blog is to present an impartial account of what happened at the full council meeting. Details of the budget itself can be found in the reports pack for the meeting in the link below.
Cllr MICK SALIH (Non-Aligned Group) asked as a point of information when the council sets the budget do all members present have not to be in arrears with their council tax?
The legal officer Paul Hackney replied that this information would not be divulged and it is up to members to decide where they stand.
Cllr KIERAN CLARKE (Liberal Democrat) asked for clarification of the procedure regarding amendments.
Paul Hackney stated that decisions are by a straight majority. Cabinet will present the budget proposals. If an amendment is put forward it will be dealt with in the usual way, but if passed it stands as an objection to the budget. It is then for the cabinet to decide how to respond. This may mean a break in the meeting, reconvening later today or at a future date. But by law the budget must be set by 11th March.
Cllr KIERAN CLARKE (Liberal Democrat) proposing the budget report stated it is a one year revenue budget to be voted on today. This has been the most consulted budget ever. Councillors have had at least 5 opportunities to contribute, 2 at group meetings, 2 at overview and scrutiny meetings and 1 at a meeting of all councillors. There must be a balanced budget but the proposed council tax is close to government limit so there is not much leeway. The formula grant is less than we should receive. (This sounds like a very important point but I confess I did not understand how and why this is the case so I struggled to note the explanation of this.) A root and branch review is to be conducted soon. Last year’s budget had planned for a 3.35% council tax increase for this year but the proposal now is for 2.89%. The plan is to do what we have to do well rather than try to do more and fail.
Cllr ROSS IRVING (Conservative and Independent Alliance) seconded the proposal.
Cllr MOHAMMED PERVEZ (Labour) moved an amendment. Cllr MARK DAVIS (Labour) and Cllr TOM REYNOLDS (Labour) distributed a handout. In brief the content of this was to add to the end of section 2.1 of the budget report £700,000 of increases and £700,000 of cuts relative to the proposed budget as follows:
Ã‚· £100,000 for Stoke Speaks Out to counteract the planned cut.
Ã‚· £500,000 to tackle antisocial behaviour hot spots.
Ã‚· £100,000 for additional dementia services.
Ã‚· £400,000 on use of consultants.
Ã‚· £150,000 reduction in corporate communications budget.
Ã‚· £150,000 reduction in regeneration.
Add a section 2.7 to explore reducing the reserve for insurance by £1 million in order to spend £1 million on 100 new apprenticeship places.
Cllr ROSS IRVING (Conservative and Independent Alliance) wanted professional advice.
Cllr PAULINE JOYNSON (Non-Aligned Group) asked for microphones in the council chamber that actually work.
Cllr ROGER IBBS (Conservative and Independent Alliance) said the state of the microphones was a disgrace and asked if the amendment had been agreed and costed by officers.
Cllr MIKE BARNES (non-aligned) asked whether the amendment could be approved today or would need to be done later. It was a substantial amendment with no notice given.
Cllr MICK SALIH (Non-Aligned Group) said the budget had been widely consulted but the labour group brought the amendment. If they had any sense they would have discussed it previously. This is last minute politics. The last budget under the Labour mayor was problematic but now Labour are doing this to try to look popular but it won’t work.
The chief executive officer John van de Laarschot said some sense and process are needed. Mohammed Pervez’s amendment would need to be proposed and seconded. Paul Hackney explained again the process for amendments for the benefit especially of Mike Barnes who had arrived late and missed the original explanation.
Cllr CLIVE BRIAN (Conservative and Independent Alliance) said the amendment was unacceptable in its current form because it was a list of items and people may agree with some and not others.
Cllr BRIAN WARD (City Independents) said he expected this from labout, they should have brought their ideas forward earlier.
Cllr ALAN JOYNSON (Non-Aligned Group) said these are the same old political games. It is about saving Labour’s political face. They had the same chance as anyone to do this before.
Cllr MOHAMMED PERVEZ (Labour) proposed the amendment, pointing out that debate had opened before the motion was moved. He outlined the points in the handout. On the first point language is important to education and he does not want it cut. On the second point antisocial behaviour has a major impact on the livelihoods of law abiding citizens. On the third point consultant costs could be reduced using routes involving members. The council’s own consultation had highlighted priorities as jobs, antisocial behaviour and education, which had been included in the amendment because the executive hadn’t.
Cllr ADRIAN KNAPPER (Labour) seconded the amendment and disagreed with having debate before the motion.
Cllr ROSS IRVING (Conservative and Independent Alliance) said this was a last minute attempt to derail the process today, why ever wasn’t this done in advance? Labour had been asked whether they would have amendments but said they didn’t know.
Cllr PETER KENT-BAGULEY (Potteries Alliance) accused Labour of being stuck in the elected mayor bunker where nobody was allowed in and nothing came out. It was disgraceful that Labour felt the need to indulge in this political point scoring. There had been much more opportunity for consultation now than when Labour were in power. We are wasting time on a pathetic amendment which has no chance.
Cllr MIKE BARNES (non-aligned) said consultation had been much more open and transparent this time and the amendment could only be about politics. Many others had put forward ideas through consultation. Because these arguments hadn’t been put forward before there was no time for thought. The ex-deputy elected mayor Mohammed Pervez challenges the NSRP now but the problems initiated when the elected mayor chaired this. Mohammed Pervez claims he is listening to people now but never did over Dimensions. If Labour want to be credible the have to say things during proper discussions.
Cllr ROGER IBBS (Conservative and Independent Alliance) said it was surprising to agree with Alan Joynson, Mick Salih and Mike Barnes, but in the committees to discuss the budget the Labour contribution had been practically zero. Why? Labour said they would prepare an alternative budget. Is this amendment it? Have they discussed their proposals with the relevant departments? If the answer is no it is not worth the paper it is written on. If they had asked they may have got some changes. He hoped people would throw this out.
Cllr JOHN DAVIS (City Independents) suggested the amendment should now be voted on. A number of councillors rushed to second this. There was then a vote on whether to end debate on the amendment and vote on it now. This was carried 37 votes to 12.
VOTE ON LABOUR AMENDMENT:
12 for (Labour), 37 against (everyone else).
Debate then took place on the main motion to accept the budget report.
Cllr JOY GARNER (Labour) said the budget has no policy direction or strategy. It is full of untrustworthy points. They have been told the vote is for one year but the report is for three years. It is a higgledy piggledy mess.
Cllr TOM REYNOLDS (Labour) said the consultation was not as extensive as it was made out to be, it was a list of options of things to cut or not. They were not asked where they would like to invest. 70% of children enter nursery school behind in language so Stoke Speaks Out should not be cut. Antisocial behaviour is not funny, there are no proposals to tackle this in this budget. There are no proposals for jobs for young people in the budget. Because Labour made a proposal, everyone else is playing politics.
Cllr MIKE COLEMAN (British National Party) said he almost voted for the Labour amendment because he liked the Labour ideas. But the consultation process had been very good and he’d felt included. This is why he voted against the amendment. The root and branch reviews will be very important. The British National Party will be supporting the budget.
Cllr MICK SALIH (Non-Aligned Group) said he had reservations on the budget but had to some extent been reassured by the root and branch review. He wants reassurances that this will take account of the views of service users. The consultation process was not as good as it could have been, it needs to be proactive involving community fora. It is the first time he will be supporting a budget by a conservative leader. He is not voting for the leader but for the best way forward. Unfortunately he was Labour for 30 years and it is sad to see what they are like now. Labour should have contributed before.
Cllr PETER KENT-BAGULEY (Potteries Alliance) doesn’t want the budget publicised as only about cuts, there are increases too. He listed items from the budget report showing areas that were having increased funding, such as adult services, children and young peoples services and housing, as well as others having cuts, such as central services and regeneration. The council leader could be congratulated for a wide ranging consultation which he does not recall under the elected mayor system. But the consultation had some poor points and there is a legacy from the elected mayor system that was open to corruption of processes, thought and principles. It is incredibly important to establish confidence in officers and members, which is sadly lacking at the moment.
Cllr ROGER IBBS (Conservative and Independent Alliance) said Kieran Clarke had made clear that this budget is a council budget although presented by the executive. It is not easy for the BNP, Mick Salih, Peter Kent-Baguley and Mike Barnes to support the executive but because of the process every councillor has been listened to. Many things aren’t solved by this budget but work on the medium term financial strategy should start tomorrow. John van de Laarschot has promised every councillor will be involved. There will be things we don’t like in the budget but it is for one year and we can try to change and input to it for future years.
John van de Laarschot said the council is here to serve the communities and businesses around us. It is essential that all members are involved.
Cllr ADRIAN KNAPPER (Labour) said we are here to set a balanced budget but have the poorest executive this council has ever seen. They have taken the simplest route. We are here to look to the future and set a clear direction. Councillor Ward is not listening, antisocial behaviour and education are important and the budget doesn’t deal with these. The root and branch review will decide things people don’t want later. We should be looking at taking the city forward.
Cllr ALAN JOYNSON (Non-Aligned Group) said the elected mayor and the puppies following him were worse than the current executive. Facing the facts in the next 12 months we will make decisions. We are accountable to the public and need to make sure services are viable. He wants to back the budget today then sit down and work out how to proceed next.
Cllr JOAN BELL (Labour) said the consultation with residents shows the top priority is antsocial behaviour; gangs of young people, nuisance neighbours, litter. Where in the budget do we show we are taking account of residents. Where ward budgets have been used to action people’s requests this has shown good results and we need to carry on.
Cllr TERRY FOLLOWS (City Independents) supports Labour on antisocial behaviour. Youth services can help but the Labour government won’t use imprisonment enough.
Cllr MARK DAVIS (Labour) said both meetings of Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny that had discussed the budget expressed severed reservations about cutting Stoke Speaks Out. It had won awards, so do we support it or cut it? He described the consultation on the budget as a clay pigeon shoot and thought the full impact of the root and branch review may be left until after the 2011 all out elections, but maybe this shouldn’t be left until then.
Cllr MIKE BARNES (non-aligned) said at least in this consultation we could see what may or may not be cut. Before, under the mayor, we were blindfolded and the clay pigeons couldn’t be seen, they just came over and dropped on us from a great height. He can’t help harping on about the past because 7 ex-Labour members are here because of the elected mayor and his budget. Before each budget had put off decisions but now there is a glimmer of hope and confidence the review will happen properly this time.
Cllr DAVE CONWAY (City Independents) is not happy with the budget but knows it must go through. Why is it about cuts? Because of bad management. Who saved Dimensions? 20p on admissions saved it. We should look at where we can generate money to improve services. Atrocious managers overspend then rob someone else who may have underspent due to good management.
Cllr ZULFIQAR ALI (Liberal Democrat) is against council tax, a local income tax would be better but what choice do we have? The Labour government has deprived us of £25 million. In general the budget is balanced and we shouldn’t hesitate to support it.
Cllr ROSS IRVING (Conservative and Independent Alliance) said the Labour suggestions have merit but should have been put in through the consultation process. In 12 months time it will be a difficult job. The council should be run as a business, we need to look at how to deliver services. There is a new mood in the council. We are all prepared to recognise financial difficulties. Next year everyone needs to participate.
Cllr GAVIN WEBB (Libertarian) for the last two and a half years has been saying there should be greater transparency in the finances. It is encouraging to see the amount of detail this time and he thanks officers for that. But more can be done, he wants full accounts published online in plain English. Council tax stamps on the rights of the individual. If anything radical comes out if the root and branch review he will shave his beard off. Councillor Ward accuses him of being a dreamer but what is wrong with that? Greater responsibility is needed from individuals who should not look to the council to solve their problems. He will vote against this on principle, it is immoral to steal people’s money.
Cllr DAVE SUTTON (Liberal Democrat) said it is difficult but we should move forward as one and vote the budget through.
Cllr JOHN DAVIS (City Independents) said the Labour government has deliberately deprived us of millions of pounds because we have been paid below the formula for the government support grant. We must make sure this is fair in future.
Cllr MOHAMMED PERVEZ (Labour) said in the real world this council will have to find savings. This is not a budget, it is a cop out. Most of the members across the chamber are supportive of the Labour ideas but won’t support because it’s Labour. Debate on the Labour ideas was stifled. The consultation under the previous system was better. They don’t need to ask officers whether they can do things or not. They didn’t contribute because it is not his job to tell the executive how to do their job. He won’t support the budget because it is not fit for purpose.
Cllr BRIAN WARD (City Independents) said we are between a rock and a hard place, but we do not look as bad as other places for job losses. £26 million pounds were lost on the formula grant. We still have the 4th lowest council tax in unitary and metropolitan authorities. Consultants increased under Labour and only now do they want to cut them. Jobs are being brought in by NSRP. On antisocial behaviour throwing money at it doesn’t work, we need to work with police and other partners without cost. The valid Labour points should not have been presented one minute before the meeting. He asks for everyone to interact with the root and branch reviews and not fall out over politics.
Cllr ALAN RIGBY (City Independents) has friends in Labour and the BNP and throughout the chamber although he may fall out with people. But there is more hope now than ever, we should have respect for each other and put political differences aside.
Cllr PAULINE JOYNSON (Non-Aligned Group) will support the budget because for the past 6 years she has asked for a line by line budget in order to understand it and congratulates officers for providing it this time. All councillors have had an information booklet and a chance to talk about the budget although she is not happy with everything in it. How many things have Labour supported under the current Lord Mayor? Nothing. That is just being political.
Cllr PETER KENT-BAGULEY (Potteries Alliance) wanted assurance that the paper on Stanley Head around the chamber is included with the budget. The Lord Mayor JEAN BOWERS gave this assurance.
Cllr JOHN DANIELS (Conservative and Independent Alliance) said accurate reports had helped decisions but this is just the start and there is serious work to do. An example of the type of thing that could have been done is charge £5 admission to see the Staffordshire Hoard.
Cllr KIERAN CLARKE (Liberal Democrat) thanked Labour for uniting everyone to support the budget and critcised their suggested amendment. There will be an opportunity over the next few months for strategic direction. He summarised many people’s comments. He said legacy issues will be there for a while but we will get over them and processes will change. Root and branch review will not be delayed until after the 2011 elections.
A vote was carried to have a named vote on the budget proposals.
The budget was carried by 35 votes for to 14 against. Labour and Libertarian voted against while everyone else voted for.
Tony has recorded a number of Audio Interviews with Councillors which you can listen to below