Thursday, March 03, 2011

Liverpool City Council Budget Meeting 2011

I wont go into lots of detail about the budget - you can see it all online anyway on the council's website.

And you will have picked up some of what happened from the Liverpool Echo website article today. However, I did notice that the journalists left before the end of the meeting and will not in any case have picked up every nuance of what was said and done, so I thought I would identify a few things that interested me.

First was the realisation that despite having played a full and active part in a ground-breaking joint budget setting process, acclaimed here, the LibDems submitted several amendments to the budget on the very day of the budget meeting, and then most voted against the jointly agreed proposals.

The proposal to work jointly together was agreed in a concordat by all four political parties on the council and one of the provisos was that any press statements would be jointly issued, and another was that problems with any aspects of the budget would  be ironed out together.

So the discovery that the LibDems went to the press on the Tuesday with notice of their proposals to amend rather than support the budget, 24 hours before officially passing their amendments to the council, was a big shock and a bigger disappointment. It also meant that their amendment had barely any time to be properly concerned by the City Treasurer and was in the end, after many challenges in the chamber, declared by the Cheif Executive to be illegal - or not balanced. Why it then went to a vote was beyond me, but it did. And it fell, as the LibDems could not  muster enough votes.

So, you would imagine that the LibDems would then fall in behind the main budget proposals that they had helped create. But they didn't. To his credit Councillor Lord Mike Storey, Baron of Childwall (think I have got that right) did vote for the budget as he was one of their ambassadors to the budget setting meeting, and some abstained, but most voted against it.

Political opportunism? Let the public decide in May.

Councillor Paul Clein moved the amendments saying they were 99.7% in favour of the budget but had some concerns that they wanted the chance to alter. It was surprising and disappointing therefore that he failed to support the main proposals after the amendments were lost.

He also said during the debate that he wondered whether the Liverpool LibDems should cede from the Parliamentary Party, I thought that was very interesting and some of his colleagues were nodding at this point. There is clearly much unhappiness within the Liverpool group and I watch with interest to see where this goes.

Councillor Paula Keaveney surprised me by saying that she started questioning the value of the City Magazine the day after the LibDems lost power. I think I am right in saying that she was responsible for its publication hitherto, so this rather puzzled me, to  be honest.

It was a long and difficult meeting, running for nearly 6 hours, with a lot of passionate contributions from community groups and organisations, trade unions and the chamber of the commerce at the outset. There was evidently some trouble outside the Town Hall and the staff were left badly shaken after protestors attempted to storm the building after learning the public galleries were all full. Evidently panes of glass were broken in the door after someone hit them with a placard. I cannot but help be suspicious that these particular protestors were more likely to be from far-left parties unrepresented in Liverpool rather than the good people of the various nurseries and child care centres outside but no doubt that will all become clear in time. A lot of us took time to thank the staff who behaved so well in very difficult circumstances. The meeting itself was not interrupted and everyone in the public gallery behaved impeccably.

It was not a good night to be a Councillor, none of us came into politics to impose huge cuts on public services, and I am afraid it is only going to get worse as the reality dawns. One contribution, I think from Alan Lewis at LCVS was particularly thought provoking when he said that after the dust had settled on the cuts we would realise, as a city, just what we had lost and we  might find that some services had gone, or clusters of services, particularly in the voluntary sector, that we can ill afford to lose. I do hope that affected groups take the opportunity to claim on the £1million hardship fund set up to try to  mitigate some of that.

I saw councillors in tears last night, along with their constituents, it was a shameful indictment on the Conservative/LibDem Government. I understand that the councils in which Government cabinet members have their constituencies were considerably better served by the local government settlement, why does that not surpise me?

As many contributors said last night, the really hard work starts now, trying to work out how to implement the cuts agreed. More sleepness nights for our local cabinet members and officers and our constituents...


Paula Keaveney said...

actually Louise that's not an entirely fair report of what I said. I was clear that I had defended City magazine in the past and was responsible for it (although had nothing to do with editing it). I then said that the expense wasn't defendable given the different financial circs we are in. I pointed out that I had consistently asked questions about it (to Paul Brant) when we went into opposition because I was interested to see if Labour would pursue the line in the (then) opposition budget which had said publication would cease if City mag could not break even with external advertising. Paul Brant made it clear to me he had changed his mind. He also confirmed the net costs of the last two editions which come in at around £25,000 each.

The situation we face is that we have a publication which is not required by law and which will cost approx £100,000. ( I omit the extra £30,000 + for an annual report as although that does not have to legally be in print format I think it should) We also have a situation in which there are a number of groups going under or at risk because of a lack of that amount of money or a lesser amount. I identified one in South Liverpool I wanted to help.

I did not say I changed my mind on the value of the magazine the day after we lost power. As someone who works in communications I am well aware of the value, or lack of it, of a range of publication methods. Should the financial situation improve to the extent that we are not looking at such ghastly decisions, I would probably support such a publication. It cannot be justified now - sad though that is.

I was entirely upfront in my speech about how I had defended City Mag in the past. It was open to anyone to get up and speak in favour of it and against me.

Les said...

I think the political opportunism of the Fib Dems has sunk them to a new low. The Government, fully aided and abetted by the Fib Dems, deliberately front loaded cuts that hit the poorest in society, in particular Liverpool people.
Had Labour set an illegal budget, you would have let down the electorate of the city, and the Con-Dems would have come into the city and ruthlessly attack the poor and the vulnerable with even greater relish than they already have done. Only a blinkered fool could think that Labour members took any pleasure whatsoever in making the dreadful cuts that happened last night. You did the only real option available to you last night. You are very honourable people, and can still hold your heads high, which is mor than can be said for the Fib Dems. They have no credibilty in propping up the Tories nationally, and no credibility locally be renaiging on their budget partners at the eleventh hour and fifty ninth minute, and then,scurrilously running to the press before having the decency to let Joe Anderson and the Labour group,the greens (who also did not come out of this with much credit)and Radford's Liberals know what they were about to do. . TheFib Dems are toast in May.

Louise Baldock said...

Hi Paula. I dont deny that you said any of this. But I very carefully noted that you prefaced your speech by saying Cllr Paul Brant would be able to confirm that you started asking questions about this the day after power changed hands. My head came up in surprise because having shadowed you, I knew you had been responsible for the cith mag. I am not taking issue with your argument or the veracity of your figures which you will know far better than me. But I maintain what I said above. I thought it was an odd thing to say.

Louise Baldock said...

Although perhaps not as surprising as your leader telling the chamber that he emailed the city treasurer on the wednesday, the day after alerting the press, with the groups amendments.