Thursday, 4 March 2010

Local Blog: Budget and Look In protest ‏



I attended the council meeting yesterday (3rd March 2010) where the budget was approved with a few amendments.

Before going into the meeting I meet the Look In protesters outside, they wrote some very good songs, the lyrics of which I will post on here some other time.

Terry Pearce, chairman of Bracknell Senior Citizen's Forum handed in the petition to keep the Look In Cafe open, he was also allowed to make a 3 minute speech.

I noted the following points from Terry Pearce speech.

1. He compared the 60k to the councillor allowances.

2. He complained that the consultation was hard to access online and that the Senior Citizens Forum was not approached for the consultation.

3. He said that the council by transferring to the volunteer group was washing its hands.

4. He said that the only reason the council was still keeping the Look In cafe was because of the protest and was not down to the council.

Mr Pearce was also asked a few questions. One councillor asked why was he involved? Mr Pearce said because the Look-in is more than just a cafe, its unique and is used for social purposes as family move away and as Chairman of the Senior Citizens Forum he knew how important it is to the senior citizens.

Councillor Dale Birch thanked the people for taking part and said that he valued their input and that it had contributed to the councils thinking. I.e. it was the protest that changed the councils mind.

Councillor Dale Birch was allowed to inform the protestors about the plans for the Look In Cafe.

The Look In Cafe and its assets will be transferred to a new not for profit company which will be run by volunteers. The current manager will remain for up to one year on secondment from the council. There will not be a massive refurbishment and the business rates will remain at zero plus they will be offered a cash loan from the council if required. Councillor Dale Birch said that the council is not washing its hands but ensuring a smooth transition to the new operators.

Later in the meeting Councillor Alan Ward joked that he didn't want the Look In to go as it was only one of two places in Bracknell that had his name on a plaque. He also could not understand why people are still protesting when the Look In had been saved and the council had saved money.


The rest of the meeting.

Awards where made to the hard work put into Foster care placements for the say it loud say it proud scheme.

Also at last the new youth centre was given the go ahead for South Bracknell which is paid for from the sale of housing to the Bracknell Homes. This was announced by councillor Gareth Barnard. Anne Shillcock of the labour group did question why it had taken so long and also the amount of funding spend on consultants. Bernard rebutted this claim by saying that this money was party used to find the suitable property in Great Holland's.

The budget was later passed with amendments for not increasing the council allowances by £100. The budget means an increase in council tax of 2.94%. With 1/2million coming from the reserves.


My thoughts

What surprised me about the meeting was how political it was, I guess in hindsight I shouldn't be. but Labour was attacked at a national level when this is not down to the small Labour group of 3 councillors. I thought it would be best to discuss the issues around the budget.

Labour was attacked for the small increase in the council funding of just over 1% from the government. Labour was also attacked for the large amount of rates that are paid back to the government (I agree with the Tories on this point). Funds are also still tied up in Icelanic banks and interest received is now less not only because of the decrease in the rate but also because of the use of the reserve fund.

One attack on Labour was about the £315,000 charged by the audit commission to the council plus on why so many labour councils receive more funds compared to Tory ones. The defence of course is that many Labour councillors have worse problems and are indeed poorer as they can't raise as much council tax.

All these attacks on Labour seemed quite unfair on a local basis. From what I can tell the small Labour group are working hard and do contribute with ideas to the council even thought they were also attacked on this point. I felt a bit sorry for the Labour councillors.

Councillor Anne Shillcock rebutted these attacks by saying that the same thing will happen under a possible Tory government and stating that the Tories also wanted to make efficiencies at a local level.

Anne Shillcock also felt it was a bad idea to cut the dog warden and park maintenance. But possibly her best point was when she highlighted the cut in the scrutiny panel meetings from 30 to 19. This will also reduce the work load and she felt that this would give the council less chance to question and improve these services that are scrutinised . I also expect this mean less influence and less control. This of course was rebutted by Councillor Paul Bettison as he said they look at problems after the event.

During the meeting even the Liberal Democrat PPC Ray Earwicher who was sitting on the seats around the meeting was also attacked (he can't rebut these as he is not on the council).

All in all I thought it was a real shame that the Labour group was under constant attack rather then allowed to deal with the budget issue themselves. Labour were forced into defending national government or other Labour councils, however they don't have any influence over this and I thought this attack and defence was pointless after all the councillors from all sides know the national issues. I also noticed that it was executive members of the council that spoke and there were not any contributions from the councillors around the table other than the Labour Group during the budget discussion.

After having attended other council meetings in other councils I can see that what we need is more opposition on the council so there is more debate and more ideas from other parties.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the report

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  2. Interesting to have a round up of what goes on. Often the papers seem not to want to report on anything. Handy to know what the meetings look like to an outsider. I would like to comment on you comments:

    What Councillor Ward was showing with his graphs about the support that the Council gets from the Government was that support to Bracknell has decreased dramatically. 12 years ago nearly ¾ of the funding came from Government, and about ¼ from local council tax. The Government has reversed this. This has meant that Bracknell has made savings year on year to protect its services. Alan Ward was showing us why “efficiencies” or “cuts” are necessary. An attack on the way that the Labour party Machine works perhaps? The Labour councillors there are part of the party, even if it is representing it locally. Alan Ward was describing the rock and the hard place that we find ourselves between. I am sure Alan Ward would mail you the detailed funding graphs if asked.

    Anne Shillcock is probably right about cuts coming whatever government gets in, but most of the problem has been caused by profligate Labour borrowing. Yet again a Conservative government will have to pick up the pieces.

    The budget that was in front of us has been through endless scrutiny and budget meetings, and public consultation. At the stage we were at there was not really any more to discuss, apart from the larger issues that got us into this state. Other issues like the dog warden, Look in, and cuts to other staff have been endlessly gone over, and reluctantly positions/jobs have had to go.

    The loss of a job in the scrutiny system will make the job harder for councillors. There may have been a cut in the number of the main meetings where council officers provide support, but there will still be all of the subgroups discussing and scrutinising items. We all want things like our Parks to be well maintained, but not at a cost to vulnerable people, and the health of the sick and elderly.

    The amendment you mention was not actually to the budget, but to remove the proposal (4.6 iii) by the Independent Remuneration Panel to increase Councillors allowances by £100.00.

    The dog warden situation will be discussed further at the Overview & Scrutiny Panel on Tuesday, 9 March. Bracknell Town Council and other partners wish to address the problem.

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  3. Locally in Norfolk we worked out a few years ago that if Lib Dem run North Norfolk got the same grant per head of population as neighbouring Tory breckland got from central government, North Norfolk could cut council tax by 30%.

    Some tory councils gain, some lose.

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  4. Alvin,

    Im surprised the papers were there for the whole meeting because all they reported was the bare facts. You didnt have to be there to do that.

    I know the budget has already been discussed else where and I also send in my ideas during the consultation. But I just didnt see the need for all the attacks by Alan Ward. Bettison was more fair.

    At the end of the day we all want Bracknell to get more but the Norfolk Blogger is right (he was also a councillor once as well as running again at the moment) We can all find examples of councils be they Tory, Lib, Lab, which have receved more money or indeed less.

    I also agree with your comments on the panels and ensuring that vulnerable people are a prioity. I guess I believed we do have plenty of money as a council.

    as the Remuneration Panel was about money I did get this mixed up with the budget, Sorry about that.

    dont get me wrong I dont want a Labour government its time for them to go, just been there too long. I want a hung parliment (im sure the markets will carm down when Vince sorts them out) but I have predicted a Tory government with a small majority (cant always reply on polls esp with all those swings)

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