FLINTSHIRE AFFAIRS- Budget setting and this and that. 1St 12 th March. 2011.

Flintshire councillors set its council tax rate and the annual budget on 1st March.  From what we were told about its true sustainability by those sceptical of the document,  the occasion should have been reserved for one month later: the 1st April.  As the Council chamber is still under repair from flooding many weeks ago, Theatr Clwyd was the venue for this serious debate.  It was suggested that some of the key players did very well in emulating the Thespians that would be having their performances later that day on another stage.   The words challenging and difficult were frequently repeated as the Chief Executive, Head of Finance and the Leader of the Authority all played their parts to reassure us that everything was going to be alright. All the brave words spouted by some members of the coalition before the meeting, that they were passionate about education and would not vote for still further cuts to the education budget, had been cut totally from the script.  My Group were in a real dilemma as our leader was the Executive member for education and recovering from illness, thus not available to defend the decision to continue keeping Flintshire children at the bottom of the Welsh league for the smallest sum spent per pupil. All those hopeful Conservative manifestos written with such high  ideals  three years ago and to be sadly ignored in these difficult times. Labour members voted against  the budget and taunted the Coalition on these broken manifesto promises.  They boasted that they had copies of the leaflets as proof of our duplicity. The New Independent Group bluntly told us that as the figure for inflation had been set at an impossibly low rate and we were eating into reserves so heavily, the Authority was living on borrowed time, thus before long the calculations would implode.   Cllr Cattermoul pulled the top table up in their tracks by asking if it was safe to vote on it as  so many ‘sweeteners’   being frantically lobbed out by the Deputy Leader in order to keep members on board, what the actual budget consisted of was now not clear.  “As they form no part of the budget document, is it safe to vote today”?  And what a good question it was!  Rapid consultations amongst officers and yes we should vote.  It all became very confusing and no one seemed clear what was in or what was out but no matter.  We listened in silence to a hectoring speech promising brimstone  fire (metaphorically), from the Executive member for finance; and it was time to move to a recorded vote.  This identifies which way members vote  and was deemed to be the mechanism to flush out those who dared to vote the budget down.  The vote was 34 for 27 against  and three “abstains” of which one was mine. Visions of smoke and mirrors floated by my eyes as I left for much needed Harry Potter magic, maybe with a liberal use of the invisibility cloak to hide those who set the budget!  I was overtaken by two less than happy members of the public who as they stumped out remarked angrily,  “They even give themselves refreshments”. What would they have said if I had popped up with: “You haven’t a clue about how we safeguard your money”.  “What about the cost to the public purse to rid the Council of a troublesome member who was demanding a better service from well paid staff or more even to save the face of the author of a grubby little hand written journal which was seemingly designed to do maximum harm to fellow councillors?”   I could have made those who queried the tea pot provisions faint with fright.  The cost of the attempt to rid the Authority of this ‘troublesome councillor’ is up to £1 million and rising.  The circus starts again in June.  Nothing but the best hotels and all the trimmings for the Panel, of course.   As the new Council tax bills hit your mats, any thoughts on lifting the phone or better still the email should hit its mar?  Ask questions of those who hold the real power inCounty Hall. Are these costs the figment of a disrespectful councillor or are the eye watering mega sums really true! If the answer is yes, the next decision is yours.

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