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Being Labour, Breaking News, Cotterill on the Council

Rebutting 10 Tory budget nonsenses

02.26.10 | Comment?

Right then, I know people are waiting with baited breath for my point by point rebuttal of the nonsenses the Tories came out with in response to Labour’s budget speech

Sorry, it’s a bit slow coming, I had other deadlines to meet post-Full Council, but if you’re sitting comfortably……

Dodgy process

I’ll comment on the really quite inappropriate, indeed anti-democratic behaviour of the Mayor on Wednesday night in a separate post, as I think it warrants full scrutiny and can no longer be allowed to pass as ‘quirky banter’, or whatever. 

Here, though, I’ll just need to raise the issue of how, under the Tories’ Council constitution, I was barred from making my responses on the night, such that I now have to respond fully in writing in order to both challenge the stupidities and selective hearing of the Tories and defend my name.

The technical reason I was not allowed to speak again after my main submission is that my budget speech was an amendment to the budget set out by the Tories; only the proposer of the main motion (the Tory budget) is constitutionally entitled to sum up their speech. 

The Tory finance portfolio holder did so, not by summing up his own speech, but using the time to attack the Labour budget and to throw across the floor the quite ridiculous insult both to Labour AND to senior officers to the effect that he doubted officers had seen our proposals.  He seemed to be suggesting that professional officers in his own council had not had the gumption to work with the Labour side on the proposals, agree that they stacked up – however different they might look to the Tories’ proposals – and then have them printed as formal council documents.  If anyone should be apologizing for what they’ve said (see below), it should be the finance portfolio holder.

In any reasonable interpretation, Labour’s budget speech should not have been seen as an ‘amendment’.  It was clearly referred to as an ‘alternative’ budget, and should have bee accorded the same courtesy as the Tory budget, even if it meant showing some flexibility around the constitutional norms – something the Mayor was quite happy to do when it came to allowing the Housing Portfolio Holder’s speech to go on for 15 minutes, rather than the 5 she had specifically requested, having actively turned down an offer to have standing orders about the length of speeches suspended for her (meaning that I condensed this part of my overall contribution to the 5 minutes).

However, when I raised my hand to ask whether I might respond, and sum up in responses to the accusations and falsehoods thrown across the chamber, I was denied.

Perhaps, though, I should be thankful for small mercies.  At least the Labour ‘amendment’ was voted upon (and democratically defeated) before the Tory budget was waved on through by their majority.  When it came to the housing budget ‘amendments’ (i.e. alternative), the Mayor simply ignored the fact that it had ever been brought forward, and moved directly to vote on the Tory housing proposals.  It was only when we offered the appropriate howls of protest that he was quietly reminded of due process and forced to take our amendment to the vote first.  Let’s just make this clear.  Had we not reminded him forceably of his duties, the passing of the Tory budget would have been unconstitutional, and the expense and inconvenience of a further Full Council meeting to hear this one item might have been incurred.  With a quick shout out, Labour saved the council about £5,000 on meeting costs.

So, in the absence of either a sensible constitution or sensible interpretation of the constitution, I now set out the kind of responses I would have made to the Tories on Wednesday, have I been accorded that facility.   I can’t remember exactly which order the taunts came in.

Stupidity No.1: The Labour budget was not checked over by officers

Incorrect. 

I have quite clear email confirmation from officers that both the proposals presented to council and the budget speech accompanying the proposals were perfectly in order.  The accusation thrown by the portfolio holder is not only an attack on the professionalism of the officers he had only just thanked in his speech, but also reveal a poor ability to conceive of anything other than the Tories own narrow thinking on how to run a council. 

Shameful, but pitiful.

Stupidity No.2: The maths don’t add up

Incorrect.

As above, I have email confirmation that they do. As above, an insult to officers as well as to Labour.   I can live with the latter – it’s what happens in council, but I really think the Tories who are happy enough to suggest that I’m criticsing council staff even in the absence of any facts to back up that suggestion, should think about the way they approached this matter on Wednesday.  Different proposals are not automatically incorrect proposals. 

Shameful, and pitiful.

Stupidity No.2: Reserves are being used on items that are ongoing drains on it

Incorrect. 

It is quite clear from my proposals, and the budget speech, that all revenue and capital items sought from reserves, other than £30,000 (within in-year budgeting sensitivities) were items which were either one-year only or where they pay for themselves beyond that year through savings ad/or income.

The fact that the Tories cannot easily conceive of the concept of investing to save/grow is their main problem, and that is why the council is in the state it’s in.

Stupidity No.3: Swimming figures have not declined

That’s not what I said.

What I said was that, indicative of a wider malaise, young person’s swimming fell 8% in August ’09 (compared to August ’08). This is confirmed by Serco.  August is an important month for this measurement because there is no school swimming, for which there is a statutory driver for take up, to cloud the data.  

Let me re-iterate.  The free swimming calculations done by the council as a way of NOT accepting government grants were done on an assumption of a 40% increase in swimming take up, as happened when it was introduced in Wigan.

Compare 40% growth with an 8% delcline in August ’09, and you’ll see that the young people of West Lancashire have been betrayed by the Tory council.

Stupidity No.4: The budget gap for the provision of free swimming has not been closed

I didn’t say it had.  I said that if Labour was in control we would go about closing it by working with the PCT , and I then suggested the need to negotiate robustly with Serco about how much they should be expected to put in. 

The problem with closing the gap is that the Tories have turned down government funding, and this is no longer available. 

They put us in this position, and now whine that Labour would plan to get them out of it by working with partners.

Further, as above, the funding gap assumed by the council was based on added staffing costs associated with a 40% rise in take-up.  This would not happen immediately, staff increases could be phased in, and the budget gap lowered.  This, clearly, is beyond the scope of the Tories’ understanding, who have been set from the start on not doing their maths in any other way than the way that justifies not taking government cash.

Pitiful, and a betrayal.

Stupidity No.5: Free rail travel for older people is unaffordable and would results in a massive increase in Council Tax

The Labour budget didn’t say that free rail travel would be available overnight. In my speech I stressed the tactical and strategic reasons for moving towards a much, much better offer for older people, inclusive off rail travel, in addition to the social justice argument.  The Tories simply did not listen to what I said.

Stupidity No.6: Paul Cotterill should apologise to the Leisure Trust for what he wrote in his blog

A little bit off-track, but as it was a strange demand thrown into the response to our proposals, I may as well respond here.

I have no reason to apologise to anyone from the Leisure Trust.  There is nothing I have ever said or written, on this blog or elsewhere, which can be construed as insulting, or even ungracious, towards the members of the Leisure Trust, or to Serco staff. 

I defy anyone to point out where I have acted or written in any way which would require my apology, as opposed simply to levelling the general accusation.

To be frank, such accusations thrown at me are an attack on my own character and integrity.   I could in my turn demand an apology, but I won’t because I’d be wasting my breath.

 Stupidity No.7: Labour’s budget does not add back in jobs to the council

Hearing failure.  The Labour budget set out clear plans to re-inflate the council.  It was the Tory budget that said nothing about improved staffing and services.

In fact, the Tory budget said nothing at all.  That’s why no-one talked about it on Wednesday, and it’s why the Tory portfolio holder’s speech was half-taken up by general inanities about the wider economic picture, while the Labour speech put the budget briefly in that context and then did half an hour of detail.

 Stupidity No.8: Labour’s budget does not make provision for additional gritting in winter

It doesn’t need to. Gritting is the County Council’s responsibility and that is where the budget should come from.  What is needed is greater co-ordination of services by borough and county so that in times of high demand for gritting, the borough can help out but by using county resources/funding.

What the borough council does have responsibility for is its car park, but it pays £25,000 per year to the county council to do that job for it.  If the county can’t do the job, as it failed to do in January, the contract should be terminated and the borough should use that money cleverly to undertake gritting in priority areas.

If the West Lancs Tories choose to use West Lancs budget resources to bail out their fellow Tories in Preston, that’s their look out.

Stupidity No.9: The decision not to go ahead with the spend on the council’s office build will lead to outlay on keeping the existing council offices in a due state of repair and function.

Incorrect. 

That is one of the reasons for the review of all capital project programming planned for summer 2010 should progress, and why  I referred to it when it was brought up under a different agenda item (medium-term capital programme). 

The notion that the new council offices should continue, asset out under that item, was why we abstained on that vote; although we recognize the value of a review, to exclude this main item from it would not be legitimate.

At the moment it is far from clear whether any of the remedial expense as suggested by the Tories would ever be needed if a different configuration can be brought to bear on staff locations, and it can certainly be deferred in this coming budget year, given the current availability of other accommodation for staff.

Most noticeable though, here, is that £40,000 has ALREADY been spent on short term work on the current building, even though staff might be located elsewhere and even though in the Tories’ own plans the building might be demolished.  This is the absolute opposite of what is happening at Findon & Firbeck, where tenants are being refused a place in the capital programme because their homes might be demolished.

Utter hypocrisy, as well as a total inability to use a capital programme review for what it should be used for – to look at capital needs in the round.

Stupidity No. 10:  It’s a surprise that many of things set out as good ideas by the Labour MP in the press should be reflected in Labour’s budget speech

Ah yes.  That was a good one. 

Tory surprise at the Labour MP and the Labour budget being on the same wavelength. 

Whatever next? ‘Shameful Labour dodginess as MP and local councillor connive to win both general and local elections with consistent and transparent message about ‘investment vs. cuts’?’

Silly, wrong, hypocritical, anti-democratic Tories.

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