Monday 25 February 2013

Brent budget passed in the midst of indulgent pantomime

Protestors outside Brent Town Hall tonight
 Brent Council tonight approved Labour's budget which includes further cuts.  A last minute amendment moved by Council Leader Muhammed Butt aimed to spike the Opposition's guns by reducing parking charges at the cost of  reducing ward working funds by £210,000. £10,000 for each ward.

A previous last minute amendment at a Budget meeting by the then leader Ann John had doubled ward working funds. This time she spent the entire meeting reading what appeared to be a novel on her Kindle and made no contribution to the meeting.

The Lib Dem amendments which included £500k for volunteer libraries and reduced expenditure on the senior management team of the Council were voted down by Labour.  No Labour councillors challenged the budget despite cries of 'No Cuts' and 'Resign' from the public gallery.

Much of the meeting was taken up by the usual grand-standing speeches and barracking which Councillors seem to enjoy as a sort of Pantomime Politicians' Club but there was a measured, coherent contribution from Cllr Alison Hopkins in her role as Chair of the Finance and Budget Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Her colleague Cllr Hunter drew disbelieving gasps when she appeared to suggest that the way to tackle child poverty in Brent was to  have more effective family planning now that the Council is in charge of public health. The Rev David Clues was not present but Cllr Gavin Sneddon made a sober speech criticising the pantomine and extolling the virtues of cross party cooperation.

When the vote was finally taken there was considerable confusion with some councillors heard to ask each other, 'What are we voting on? and it was certainly hard to follow the Mayor's chairing from the public gallery.

Below the surface of the debate loomed a recognition that next year's cuts of £19m (nearly 12% of the Council budget) will be disastrous. Perhaps, by then, the pantomime will have stopped.


Anonymous said...

a) how many people were in the public gallery?
b) how many people were outside the town hall?
c) Budget is challenged prior to full council by the party passing it not during
d) Will Green Party be running on a 'refusing to pass a legal budget' ticket in 2014?

Martin Francis said...

a. People came and went upstairs in the balcony but probably eight in all. However there were some public and press in the Council Chamber but you cannot see all of them from upstairs.
b. I arrived late outside the Town Hall but around 30 I should think.
c. I suppose that is the problem. It would be good to know if the budget was challenged in the non-public party meeting. I understand some councillors were against the cut in ward working funds to reduce parking charges. It would be good for the public to know it might give us a bit more faith in your ability to think independently.
d. There is a debate going on in the Green Party, including in Brighton, about where the 'tipping point' is when 'being in office but not in power' means you are mere tools of the Coalition's attack on local government and working people. Given Muhammed Butt and Ruth Moher's comments on the dire budgetary situation they face in 2014-15 that seems a rational approach.

Anonymous said...

This issue regarding Mayors and the inability to understand what they are doing has been a problem in Brent for years.

Please do not misunderstand me, multiculturalism is the most beautiful thing about our Borough, but to have meetings of such significance chaired by party grandees with very little experiencing of chairing or public speaking is not on. Whilst the role is (mostly) ceremonial, there are important elements, which must also be remembered when Mayors are "elected" by their respective parties.

With Bobby Thomas set to take the helm this year, this is a plea to the Labour Party... When choosing his deputy, please find someone charismatic and engaging, who is able to relate to a wider audience, not just cut ceremonial tape!

Thanks :)

Shahrar Ali said...

There needs to be greater clarity between the ceremonial and the constitutional duties associated with the position of Mayor in Brent, and to avoid encroachment without proper mandate. Perhaps this role should be directly elected, as it is in Tower Hamlets and Hackney? Wouldn't we benefit from greater debate about its functions - and, in current political climate, could it serve as a useful counterpoint for those disaffected with the council to have a man or woman directly elected by the people as their spokesperson?