Labour’s mayor had to stop the Stevenage Borough Council annual budget and council tax setting meeting on Wednesday evening (26.2.2014) at Daneshill House, in order to try and prevent Labour members shouting down a speech by Manor ward borough councillor and Liberal Democrat group leader, Robin Parker. The Labour members were making so much noise that Robin’s words could not be heard.
Commenting after the meeting, Robin Parker said: “I have experienced this sort of uncouth, undemocratic and downright rude behaviour by Labour councillors many times during the last 30 years and I have learned that when they try to stop me speaking like this, it means that I have voiced some very valid points that they do not wish to hear.”
“Other political groups have not taken part in these bully boy tactics and have been prepared to listen in a civilized way to other points of view. Labour have had it their own way for so long (50 years) in Stevenage, that they are now quite incapable of this.”
Amongst the points made by Robin Parker are:
- support for the council tax freeze and support for the withdrawal of Labour’s proposed cuts in funding for Community Centres and Douglas Drive Day Centre – he would have proposed this in any case;
- support for the reduction in the cuts in councillors’ Local Community Budgets (restoring them to £2,500 a year) – the bid for which was initiated by Robin at Scrutiny Overview Committee on 23 January;
- had the council not voted down his proposal for reductions in councillors’ allowances (payments) each year for the last 5 years, the council would now have had an extra £250,000 in balances or to spend on local services;
- other examples of waste at the council are still happening – like £63,100 wasted on putting up, then removing, the pointless yellow kite in the town centre, and the bloated expenditure on glossy leaflets form the council under the communications budget;
- the public consultations on the budget should not all be held on Thursdays during the working week, when many hard working residents cannot get to them;
- some of the coalition government’s changes to local government finance have helped the council’s finances – e.g. the New Homes Bonus has brought in an extra £218,000 in 14/15 and the localization of business rates has had a positive influence too;
- as a direct result of the coalition government, Stevenage Council has been able to build/buy badly needed new council homes this year, for the first time in 30 years;
- budget problems at Stevenage Council started in 2007/2008 when Labour finally realised that they could not go on spending their bank balance indefinitely (despite previous repeated warnings about this from myself at the time) and started to try and live within their means;
- the budget problems were made greater in more recent years because of huge reductions in central government grants, necessitated by the deficit reduction imperative, itself the mainly the result of the last Labour government continuing to borrow an extra £5,000 every second;
- it is silly to try to keep the council tax freeze secret until 7pm on the day of the meeting, when everyone knows that is what is going to happen;
- thanks to the council officials for their work on this budget and answering all my questions.