Friday, 3 December 2010

Council passes 'hope for the best' budget

Cornwall Council today passed the Tories' cuts budget and many services must now hope for the best that they will survive the ensuing uncertainty. Liberal Democrat amendments aimed at securing the future of libraries, leisure and adult care budgets were voted down.

The meeting was a generally positive one with genuine debates on Cornwall's services. But, when it came to the vote, most members of the Tory and Independent groups lined up behind the proposals.

Among the decisions were:

- a call for a guarantee that extra funding received above the predicted government grant to be ring fenced for adult social care was rejected. The Council is proposing to spend £4 million less than is predicted to be needed on this service and we wanted to restore this cut;

- a call for the administration to publish its plans for library and one stop shop services and to allow councillors to vote on these detailed plans was also rejected. It will now be up to Cabinet members alone to decide which branches will close and which will stay open;

- a call to delay unspecified projects at Newquay Airport for a year to guarantee the time needed to save leisure facilities such as Camelford, Bude Sea Pool, the Jubilee Pool and Hayle Sea Pool was also rejected. Whilst work will continue to secure their future, there is no guarantee that they will still be in existence by the time plans are finalised;

- council staff face a further review of their severance arrangements, just a few months after the last review massively cut their terms and conditions.

In the only defeat for the administration, councillors voted to take the proposed Stadium for Cornwall out of the capital programme. The feasibility study has still not been received on this project but the Cabinet wanted to pre-empt that by voting the money for it to go ahead anyway.

The move by Cabinet members to cut short debate was also defeated as members from across the chamber shouted them down and demanded the right to have a proper and full debate.

As I mentioned earlier, a motion to have regard to the effect of the cuts on low paid employees was rejected with all but one Cabinet member voting against the proposal.

At one stage, the Cabinet seemed unaware of their own plans as they protested that there had never been a plan to close all but nine libraries in Cornwall. As a leaked early draft of their budget plans showed that this plan existed and was labelled as having Cabinet support. If they now claim that they want to do something different then I am glad, but - as with so much else - there is no idea within County Hall about how they might achieve this.

At the start of the meeting - in a quite extraordinary move - Cabinet Member Joan Symons was allowed to read out a very lengthy statement on libraries and leisure which opposition councillors were not allowed to question despite some sections being demonstrably untrue. Cllr Symons, it should be remembered, submitted a derisory 33 word which could be questioned - although I am told she has been taken to task for this.

And so, despite the fact that the local government settlement which could provide many of the answers we need is just a week or so away, the Conservatives and Independents (almost) all lined up behind a budget which puts a doubt into much of what the Council delivers for local people. There were a few honourable exceptions including Independents Pam Lyne and Judith Haycock and the MK group also voted against the proposals alongside all Lib Dems.

A footnote: Some members of the Tory Group have clearly been learning the art of becoming a consumate politician. Phil Tucker, councillor for the area south of Bude gave a speech rubbishing the amendment which would have secured the future of the Sea Pool. When it came to the vote - which was recorded - he voted in favour. Of course, this was probably due to his being swayed by the strength of the argument... and nothing to do with what his local voters would think of him.

No comments: