This year’s budget process has been my first as a councillor, I have endured many in the past from the public galleries and I hoped to play a positive part in this one.
Unfortunately that was not to be.
Despite the mayor’s assertions that he wanted an open and inclusive council, he and his Tory colleagues failed to include any opposition councillors in the process and the level of detail available to councillors and residents was woefully inadequate.
It has been impossible to clearly identify where services will be impacted by the Coalition Government’s cuts. Cuts that are going too fast and too deep.
I and other opposition councillors were forced to try and stimulate debate with the ruling Tory group by tabling 15 amendments and objections. We hoped that our alternative proposals would have received serious consideration and were designed to protect some of the most vulnerable in The Bay.
Instead we were faced with a wall of silence from the Tory group, many councillors not saying anything at all during the five hour meeting except uttering the word ‘against’ 15 times. One noteworthy exception was Councillor Matthew James, Torbay’s youngest councillor who pledged at the election to be the voice for youth. He honoured that by voting with us three times.
From protecting services to those with learning disabilities to youth, adult and early years, each were systematically opposed.
Leading Councillors Robert Excell and David Thomas have been at pains to insist there was no whip and their colleagues were not told how to vote. It is an incredible coincidence that in general they voted as one.
Party loyalty maybe understandable, but what is not is the Trappist-like vow of silence exhibited by elected councillors. It maybe they remained silent as they didn’t agree with the mayor’s proposals, but wished to stay loyal. If they did support him, why didn’t any of them speak up and justify the massive cuts? It was mainly the paid Executive Leads appointed by mayor Oliver that spoke.
There was an arrogant hue of ‘we know best’. But the evidence suggest otherwise. During debates the mayor and other colleagues showed confusion over groups such as PLUSS and SPOT. Their calculations of the combined costs of amendments was totally incorrect. Hardly bodes well for the budget!
I asked for £63,000 to be reinstated to libraries so they can remain open with the same hours as present. This would have allowed those who can only attend a library in the early evening the opportunity to use the service. Rejected. There were several members of Library friends group in the gallery and they were disgusted by the attitude of the Mayor and his group.
We asked for £100,000 to be reinstated to early years’ support, an essential service to ensure our youngest have the best start in life. We asked that the money comes from the ongoing grant of over £600,000 to the Conference Centre. Rejected. This sends a message about the mayor’s priorities.
Additionally we asked that £150,000 be put back in to youth services to ensure the development of new ways of supporting youth groups who look after those who are without work and hope. Rejected. We have spiralling youth unemployment in Torbay and my ward of Tormohun has been identified as one of the worst in the country and these young adults need all the support we can offer.
To support the excellent work of the Torbay Development Agency we wanted £100,000 from reserves (we have ?????) added to their budget. This would have enabled them to continue to find ways to boost our economy and provide essential jobs. Rejected. Our top priority has to be a wide range of job creation schemes and not the concentration on tourism as seems to be the mayor’s goal.
I have not got space here to list all 15 topics, but suffice to say they were all targeted at protecting the most vulnerable.
At last May’s election I promised to be ‘Your voice in tough times’. This is a promise that I reaffirm and will work tirelessly to support those that will be impacted by the cavalier budget presented by the mayor and his ruling Tory group who are clearly out of touch with the harsh realities within our communities.