Councillor Capers. March 2009.

Under the prudent and wise leadership of Cllr Arnold Woolley, Flintshire’s Leader, the Coalition ( in government for almost a year now); set its first budget. The first attempt pitched it at a 3.5% increase; fully aware of the prospect of swingeing cuts next year by WAG. The only real stumbling block to a Coalition consensus was the newly proposed Ward Councillor scheme, which allowed members to spend up to a given sum on their own ward improvements. Rural members of my Group favoured it whilst I, sharing Ewloe with an Independent Cllr, felt conflict could arise. I worried about transparency in how the projects were chosen & also the cost of policing & administering the scheme. Cynical County Hall watchers could easily dismiss this project as a local member ward jolly and argue that the scheme should be shelved in favour of a smaller council tax rise. Arnold and the Finance team were prepared to offer smaller amounts and build in extra monitoring which resulted in the original draft budget increase being shaved down again. When my Group met under our leader, Nigel Steele Mortimer on 3rd March, it seemed that the Ward Scheme had been ditched complexly completely and as it was alleged the budget proposals had been printed in readiness for the urgent need to tell the public, we were urged to vote for acceptance. Although surprised to learn this, we are a disciplined bunch and well disposed towards the Coalition group, so after mutterings about who shelved the Ward Scheme entirely, we fully endorsed the proposed budget. In the Council chamber, Chief Executive Colin Everett and Head of Finance, Kerry Feather gave the power point presentation and then Arnold rose to seek propose acceptance of the Budget. He warned of very tough times ahead and did not even blame the former Administration for the financial difficulties his new administration had faced.
(‘Very statesman like’ I thought, ‘wonder if will cool Labour’s barbs when they come to opposite it?’)
Generous response was tossed aside by Cllr Shotton, who as the former leader had the task of leading the charge of criticism and introducing the Labour amendment.
“The budget was bland, lacked spark, all their work on play areas had come to naught and money would be taken from hard pressed tenants”.
What Aaron proposed was to increase the budget to 3.5% to pay for, besides other things, free car parking across the county! Holywell and Mold shoppers are obliged to pay for parking and this has been a contentious issue for years. Cllr. Bithell was another detractor from Arnold’s best efforts! “We can’t vote on assumptions”, he trumpeted, “promised openness and transparency, not hypocrisy.” “National disgrace” he declared! And so the debate unfolded. Various accusations of short-changing schools and ignoring the needy rang out but mostly, the exchanges were courteous with no display of spite or aggression. Nigel Steele Mortimer spoke eloquently without notes and quickly rebutted the claim that the schools budget and other money had been slashed. Falling rolls was the true reason. We were all impressed with this grasp of his Education portfolio and in the calm and sensible way he made his contribution. Then, Cllr Sharps, as deputy leader seriously upset the apple cart by refusing to use the word ‘hypocritical’ against Labour colleagues, just ‘bad memories’ instead. He really upped the anti by seemingly disclosing how Labour had resisted attempts to introduce free parking when they were in power; facts apparently gleaned some time ago from a confidential meeting of leaders. How had Cllr known. Disgraceful, disgraceful! Heavy muttering of disapproval from my favourite cuddly Cllr. Bernie Attridge. No! Labour would not be calling for an inquiry but Cllr Aldridge, reminded us of the seven hard years he had suffered in the position of Leader now held by Arnold Woolley. He hoped any similar disclosures in the future made in confidential meetings, would not come back to bite the Coalition as had been tried today! (My words not quoted verbatim). Before the vote was taken for Aaron’s amendment, Colin Everett clarified the sums the Labour amendment sought to increase the budget by. He also announced that income of “250K was derived from parking fees. (No mean sun in these cash straightened times!) If Labour wanted to increase Council tax to 3.5% and forgo the £250K raised by car parking charges, surely would leave a hole in their budget assumptions as the figures did not add up! If we all pay more tax, that makes a mockery of this so called free parking. Won’t we just pay in a convoluted way? All very odd indeed! The amendment to the budget was duly lost and Arnold’s final task was to sum up. He clattered though the years of “under spends”, amounting to some millions that had occurred under Labour rule. (It seemed that many millions had been lost collectively to the taxpayer but not spending up to the legal limit)- I confess that much of this high financial stuff is beyond my comprehension! The budget received a large majority and the agenda moved on. What was clear was that the increase for Band D Council tax had been pegged at £27.18 , likely to be at the lower end of rises across Wales. Well done Arnold and Financial Team! “A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME”…. Fancying a quick cuppa, during a break in proceedings, I galloped to the Members Room and whilst swallowing hot tea, Cllr Ann Minshull trotted up and asked if what a little birdie had told her was true. “Are you’ve going to be the next consort?” She enquired archly. I blustered and asked what she meant. My heart sank because she was about right but the final details had not yet been agreed with the incoming Chairman. I was not sure whether I was still needed and had even questioned the Chair’s PA earlier that afternoon for clarification. I could not tell the truth to Ann and so a small/large/ sort of porky was trundled out. “Not the right person, too ugly, too busy, too lazy”! Ann got a serious “no”. Rumour unfounded. I felt mean but there should have been no leaks. The truth is that I had been approached in January and told that in May, the Chairmanship changed and a consort would be needed for some functions. I was taken aback. My council and charity work eats into my time and after years of dashing from work to functions during my police days in Merseyside, (I could get home, feed cats, shower, change and be out booted and spurred in 19 minutes”! Now I greatly enjoyed being a couch potato when the work of the day had finished. I asked for time to consider and sneaked to the present Chair’s PA to research what I could be taking on. “It’s quite onerous” she replied glumly but there are some good functions and August is quiet”. She promised a list of the functions Chair & consort would attend. It was long and my heart sank further. Spoke to my Conservative Leader. “Lots of work,” he replied. “I never did it as it would over load my wife.” Being single and having attended countless functions on my own, knowing that a partner would have made the event more enjoyable, I just knew I would have to do something, even the compromise of attending only the big functions. So I wrote saying just that. My committee & charity work could be arduous and with four dogs, domestic life was quite full too but I would be privileged to give the incoming Chair my best shot and give his year my full support. With trepidation, I handed my heavily sealed envelope to the Chair’s PA. By return, I received a gracious hand written, warm letter that thanked me for considering the role and giving me assurances I would only be asked for the really important events when a consort is expected. The incoming Chair strikes me as a very nice man. I began to feel less wary of the new work load and decided I was delighted to have been asked. As soon as the budget meeting was over, I pounced on the letter writer, pushed him into the quiet office and urgently explained that the rumour mill was now working. I suggested, that if we had an agreement, then it should be announced ASAP from him. He was cross about the leak but everyone knows that there are no secrets and leaks just go with the county council territory. I am now very thrilled to be the next consort. It is a pleasure and an honour for me to undertake this important public duty. I pray that I am able to offer the social support the role of Flintshire Chairman fully deserves and that together we can work for the community, the Chair’s chosen charities and that together; we can bring credit and esteem to this most important civic role. (Not sure how I will cope with the “chain” but I will just have to stop slouching & buy some decent clothes.)

One Comment

  1. Colin Hughes says:

    It is good to see there is friendship and humour across the political divides

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.