Budget Denial: A Political St. Peter Syndrome ?

On Thursday the 7th of October 2010 Swindon Borough Councillors held a ‘special meeting’ of the full council to debate a ‘re-cast budget’ for this year and the preliminary budget proposals for 2011/12 and beyond.

Make no mistake, although this was under-reported by the mainstream media, this meeting was a major political event and will have far-reaching and painful consequences for many 1,000’s of  Swindons families.  ‘Re-casting’ their February budget marked the point at which the Conservative dominated Council could no longer hide the fact that Rod Bluh’s ‘electorally popular’  budget of February 2010 has, (as we predicted), suffered a near-fatal cerebrovascular catastrophe.  Swindons cognescenti will remember that, in February 2010, Cllr Mark Edwards said of his February budget:

” Mr Mayor, fellow councillors, in this budget you will see irrefutable evidence that we have a tight grip around the councils finances and will be delivering on our commitment for all Swindon, not just for today, but for years to come.”

Yes.  With the May 2010 local elections looming large in their Conservative party desk calendars, and Cllr Rod Bluh’s Christmas message still ringing in their ears, it is all to easy to see why the leadership of the council selfishly gambled the towns future prosperity for the chance to be re-elected.  Maybe Bluh was desperately hoping that a newly elected Conservative Government would hand down the local government equivalent of a lottery win to plug the Black Hole in his, and Cllr Edwards’, budget.

Swindons Conservatives have, quite literally,  managed to give the town a stroke.  When the patient had collapsed to the floor Cllr Bluh immediately proclaimed that he was, in fact,  saving the town from disaster.  He then gathered together many hundreds of the public workers responsible for keeping the towns limbs working effectively and, adding insult to the already grievous injuries he planned to inflict on them, summarily told them that many of them would be shortly losing their jobs before leaping happily into his motor car and speeding off to France for his summer holidays at his French Villa.  A case of ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’ perhaps?

Anyway, returning to the Black Hole Budget theme momentarily, in a blog post with almost that same title, I previously said:

“Politically speaking, February 2010 was the month Swindon’s Conservative councillors once again lined up loyally behind their leader and his cabinet and voted for a budget which, as several Tory councillors commented at the time, was reckless and almost certain to fail and fail badly”.

And last week,  Swindons Conservatives once again lined up to loyally support their leader and another of his budgets which is chocked full of razor blades and axes.  The supporting agenda details and document packs are available here: on the SBC website.

The mood of Conservative cllr’s during the ‘Special Meeting’ on the 7th of October was,  perhaps not surprisingly, subdued.  When the time came for council to vote on Cllr Edwards’ ‘re-cast’ budget a request for the vote to be  ‘recorded’ was made, and granted.  Every councillor present in the chamber was individually asked whether they wished to vote FOR or AGAINST the re-cast budget and the councillors were required to respond verbally, and loudly enough, that the entire chamber, (including members of the public sitting in the public gallery),  could hear their responses.

For the record:

Every Conservative Councillor present voted FOR the recast budget.

Every Labour Councillor present voted AGAINST the recast budget.

Every Liberal Democrat Councillor present voted AGAINST the recast budget.

Every Independent Councillor present voted AGAINST the recast budget.

The Mayor and his deputy abstained from the vote, as is usual.

I subsequently requested the details of the recorded vote and published them, alongside pictures of our councillors, on the Talkswindon Forum.  Their pictures, their votes, and the forum discussion topic can be viewed here:  2010 Emergency Budget: The Wall of Fame, Shame, Or Infamy

It seems that a few councillors are genuinely delighted that, possibly for the first time, members of the public can easily see who their councillors are,  how they’ve voted and what they have voted for.  On the other side of that particular coin I’ve learned, (via the Swindon Lamplighters network), that some Conservative councillors are appalled that members of the public can easily see who they are,  how they’ve voted and what they have voted for and, (and I think this is quite telling),  have been telling anyone that will listen that they did not, in fact, vote FOR a budget last Thursday, but were instead voting on proposals for a budget.

The numbers of Conservative Councillors adopting this semanticly confused position is growing quite quickly and ‘Budget Denial’ seems to be be spreading as fast as Measels in a primary school and the prime suspect for being the main carrier of the  ‘Budget Denial’ virus seems to be Conservative Councillor Mavis Childs of Walcot Ward.

Apparently, at some point before the budget meeting,  Cllr Childs says she spoke to Cllr Edwards about his budget and was ‘assured’ by him that Councillors were being asked to voted on proposals only, and not a budget per se, and Mavis subsequentlyand loyally voted FOR Cllr Edwards’ budget, as did her fellow Walcot Councillor Peter Mallinson.   I obviously can’t verify whether Mavis did, or did not, speak to Cllr Edwards and I cannot verify what he may, or may not, have said to her.  All I can say with 100% certainty is this:

1. Swindon Borough Council circulated papers for the Special Meeting which took place on Thursday, 7th October, 2010 at 7.00 p.m, and Councillor Childs was observed to have those papers with her in the Chamber on that night.  The online version of the papers Cllr Childs had with her are available online here.

2. The Strategic Approach to the budget clearly sets out the recast Budget for 2010/11 and the preliminary Budget proposals for 2011/12 and beyond

If that’s not clear enough for Mavis and her fellow Budget Deniers:

3. Item 7 on the agenda: Strategic Approach to the Budget for Swindon Borough Council is very clear when,  at 2.2  (3) it states:

2.2 The Cabinet resolved (Minute 34):
”(1) That the virements set out in Appendix 1 to the joint report, including the recast salaries budgets following the introduction of the new Pay and Grading Scheme from April 2010, be approved.

(2) That the consultation responses set out in Appendix 6 to the joint report be noted.

(3) That the “recast” Budget for the Financial Year 2010/11, as set out in the joint report, be recommended for approval by the Council on 7th October 2010, and, subject to Council approval, the Director of Finance and Council officers be authorised to implement the changes as soon as possible after the Council meeting.

(4) That the Council be recommended that implementation of the proposed increases to fees and charges, set out forconsultation in Appendix 4 to the joint report, be timed to coincide with the national increase in VAT from 4th January 2011.

Should we assume that Mavis didn’t bother reading the papers, didn’t understand them if she did, was bullshitted and bullied into voting FOR the budget by Cllr Edwards or, as seems more likely to me,  Mavis couldn’t muster the moral fibre to follow through on earlier hints that she might cross the floor to sit with Swindons only independent councillor.

Ex-Conservative Councillor Stephanie Exell certainly read and understood the papers, couldn’t agree with the recast budget and immediately resigned, which was a real shame because, if Stephanie hadn’t resigned, I am sure she would be, right now,  pointing out to her old herd-mate Mavis Childs that she’d just voted for a budget that would see every deprived child in Walcot paying more for their swimming but allowed golfers at the Broome Manor course to enjoy 18 holes of council tax-payer subsidised golfing pleasure without any increase in charges.

Councillors actively seek our votes and tell us that they want to represent us in council and serve our communities.  It is entirely reasonable that we take an interest in what they do and say for us, and what the consequences of their actions have on us,  so no,  I do not think that Budget Denial is a viable or believable position for Cllr Childs to adopt.

She voted FOR this re-cast Budget and must now accept that she is jointly responsible with Councillor Mallinson and their other Conservative colleagues, for the way it affects the entire town and the residents of Walcot Ward.  She, and they, will all be held accountable.

The digital age is here Councillors, hiding behind the arcane practices of Quill Pen democracy will become progressively harder and harder for you.

Posted on
Tuesday, October 12th, 2010
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