Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 23, 2017

The Independent View Of Full Council

Independent Cllr Adrian Owens writes “Given that local papers no longer cover council meetings, my blog posts of council meetings tend to attract a fair amount of interest. Last night’s meeting was dominated by the budget and motions, but we started with the dry subject of the council’s Pay Policy Statement. Dry it may be, but it contained a nugget that might raise an eyebrow among those who think a Labour run council is committed to greater income equality.

It revealed that the Chief Executive is now paid almost 4-and-a-half times that of the average employee, up from only 4 times, 12 months ago, thanks to a generous pay rise kim1602. With most staff getting 1% and local residents seeing services cut or charges imposed, the phrase “we are all in this together” clearly doesn’t apply to some.

It doesn’t seem to apply to councillors either. Just before they voted to impose a £30 green bin charge on residents they voted to retain the highest councillor allowances in Lancashire for themselves. I spoke briefly to again argue that we should save £75,000 by reducing our allowances to the Lancashire average and allow us more scope in the budget setting later on the agenda. It was no surprise to see the Labour and Conservative groups vote solidly to keep their sky-high allowances. I voted against because I wished the allowances to be cut.

Then we moved onto the budget. Neither of the finance spokesmen for either party addressed the matters in their budget papers. Cllr Whittington whittington did not explain why the Conservatives wanted to cut street cleaning budgets by more than £70,000 while Cllr Wynn wynne was obviously too embarrassed to offer any explanation for accepting an ongoing loss in Building Control of £58,000 or a one year delay in savings already budgeted from greater use of digital delivery of services. It was only when I questioned him that he offered some sheepish comments about being “disappointed” in the delays.

If only our councillors spent more time scrutinising and questioning officers about these failures to deliver, but they would rather grandstand and budget debates are among the worst for the use of the soapbox. Last evening’s example was when we had Labour Councillor Bullock bullock who represents Up Holland but is a property developer living in Aughton launching a tirade during which he described the £30 green bin charge as “paltry”. Well, perhaps for Cllr Bullock, who after all had just voted to keep his nice councillor allowance intact, it is “paltry”, but to many local people it most certainly is not.

Two Labour councillors – Wilkie  and Wright wright took it in turns to tease Cllr Paul Moon over his different stances on green bin charges in West Lancashire and Wyre. This was entirely justified and they were taking their lead on this from comments I had already made. Anyhow, I abstained on the Conservative budget. It proposed scrapping the green bin charge – good, but it also raided reserves put aside for our new sports centres to freeze council tax and cut street cleaning – something I could not support. Labour’s budget included the unnecessary green bin charge and so I opposed that.

When the council has underspent by £310,000 in the first part of this financial year then the green bin charge is unnecessary. Combining this with other measures including £75,000 from cutting councillor allowances, and a 1.75% council tax rise, which is below inflation would allow the green bin charge to be scrapped and some extra monies directed to improving retail trade and activity in our town centres. Sadly, neither of the main parties is prepared to focus on the detail and value for money efforts required for this.

Then we got to the motions. My overall view on motions is that they should be used sparingly. Councillors spend too much time debating matters over which they have little or no influence when more time ensuring, for example, that the promised savings from digital services are delivered rather than delayed would be a better use of their time.

Last night, we had a motion from Labour’s Cllr McKenna on Brexit which tried to sound like one everyone could support. However, it soon became clear from the speakers that it was more a re-run of the referendum. West Lancashire can make sure that its voice is heard in the process through our MP, Rosie Cooper and the Parliamentary process and our local government connections. I voted against the motion and was pleased to be joined by two Conservatives. It was sad to see a Brexit-supporting Labour councillor forced to support this motion by the Labour whip.

Then we got to a Labour motion on the cuts in Government funding to the police. Sometimes Labour motions are written in a highly partisan way, but on this occasion the motion was worded in temperate and clear language. Many councillors spoke with passion and emotion about how our police service has been hollowed out. Over the years, I have seen the ability of the police to respond in my ward diminish, and where I live in Newburgh, it is many years since I have seen a police officer on patrol.

Conservative Cllr Kay, a retired former police inspector made the lead speech on behalf of the Conservatives arguing that the police were “salting money away”. I also thought I heard him say in response to an interruption that many of those who had lost their jobs were the sick and lazy – perhaps I misheard. In any event, the logic of his argument that only waste had been cut was undermined when he said that when he was in charge of Ormskirk police, 30 years ago there were 52 police officers in the town, while now the number is 12. This crystallised the case the motion was making and with the problems my ward residents face in getting an adequate police response at the forefront of my mind, I spoke strongly in support of the motion. There were some glum looking Conservative faces. Cllr Westley urged his colleagues to vote against the motion, but Cllr Greenall joined me in supporting it, while Cllr Pope abstained.

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