Friday, March 28, 2008

Last night's full council meeting

In the midst of all the drama I have not commented on last night's council meeting.

A sizeable demonstration of opponents to the cuts in elderly services and the cuts in some of the grants the city gives greeted us. They kept up their chanting and their demonstration throughout the evening, although most were confined to the streets outside the Town Hall as for some reason only about two dozen were actually allowed inside to our "public meeting" and that was only because councillors insisted. Some credit needs to go to Councillor Sir Trevor Jones for supporting our requests to let people in.

We began with a series of short speeches from members of the public. A professional health worker, begging the LibDems not to lose the vital services at Boaler Street and Leighton Dene centres for the elderly. A man from the Chinese community, begging the LibDems not to close the Pagoda Centre and reminding councillors of how much the Chinese community has supported the City of Culture this year (and indeed every year). A young woman from the Fazakerley Special Needs project whose funding has been slashed, begging the LibDems to change their plans, as the project now faces closure. A man from the Liverpool 8 Law Centre which offers legal help to people in the Toxteth area, principally members of the black community fighting things like race hate crime.

The financial mismanagement of this council has not just meant a one-star rating and the unfortunate resulting badge of "the worst council in the country" but also it has meant slashes in funding and cuts in services to all those people who most need it. Shameful.

We had four debates, I wont go into them all, we were there for hours, but the one I want to focus on was the debate around Labour's motion to keep Boaler Street and Leighton Dene open. As the debate began 24 LibDem councillors chose this moment to get up from their seats and wander out of the chamber to get a cup of tea, or go for a ciggy and a chat with their mates (or perhaps a slanging match with their enemies in some cases?)

Fewer than half of their group remained in their seats to listen to the arguments.

This disgraceful and dismissive behaviour was of course witnessed by the members of the public present, including staff, carers and service users from all the organisations who spoke at the start of the meeting.

They pretty much all trooped back in for the voting - they voted against our plans to keep the centres open of course, all except Frank Doran. He voted in the debate before the Boaler Street one, and in the vote after the Boaler Street one, but for the debate about saving the centre in his own ward, he was absent.

He either didnt think it important enough or was too frightened of the public reaction. Perhaps he thinks that by not voting to close the centre on this motion we wont be able to point to him in the election campaign literature. But of course a failure to vote to support the centre, a failure to speak in the debate, a failure to listen to the debate is more damning.

Wendy spoke very well, she understands how vital intermediate care is, as Labour's Deputy on Health and Adult Social Care, she knows her stuff.

There were times during the evening when some of the LibDems could not bear to look at each other.

That was the last ordinary council meeting of the municipal year, I pray it will be the last one where the LibDems are in charge.

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