Shambolic #Calderdale Budget meeting sees ConDems slash funds for deprived neighbourhoods

In a meeting that the Mayor described as “shambolic”, and that led a Councillor to say that it was no wonder that only 23 percent of the electorate bothered to take part in Council elections, Calderdale Council voted by 26 to 23 in favour of a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Amendment to Revised Cabinet Budget Proposals for 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17.

The ConDem amendment’s main effect is to shift funding away from the most deprived neighbourhoods in Calderdale. It cuts £500K from Neighbourhood Working in North & West Central Halifax, and spreads some of the savings thinly across the whole Borough, with £5k/year to be spent by each of the 17 Ward Forums, as it sees fit. Which costs £255K over 3 years, if my arithmetic is right. A net saving of £245K.

After a short adjournment, Councillors then modified the Budget they’d just voted for, by voting in favour of a Labour amendment to remove the Budget’s cut to Calderdale staff sick pay, and to pay for this by re-jigging funding from other budget headings.

Council voted against a second Labour amendment, which aimed to delete the Conservative/LibDem Budget cut of £500m funding for Neighbourhood Working in North and West Central Halifax.

Confused? So were Councillors.

The meeting started out with a discussion of a cross-council, revised Cabinet budget that had been conjured up at a cross-party meeting at 4pm on the day of the Budget Meeting. This was an attempt by the Labour group to take on board some of the proposals in an alternative budget that an alliance of Conservative and LibDem Councillors had sprung on the local press last week.

The ConDem budget was in opposition to the Calderdale Budget that the Cabinet had approved on 10th February, following public consultation.

ConDem Councillors said they’d gone to the press with their budget because there were no cross-party Council groups where they could discuss their budget ideas.

The total Calderdale Budget as approved by Cabinet was:

2014/15 £167,947,670
2015/16 £158,994,257
2016/17 £154,080,902

Protesters object to unfair proposals

Demonstrating on the steps of Halifax Town Hall before the Budget Meeting started,
Calderdale Trade Unions and Labour Councillors protested against proposals in the ConDem budget to remove sick pay from Calderdale staff for the first 3 days of sickness, to stop funding the full-time Unison secretary’s pay and office space, and to cut funding for the borough’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

Calderdale Social Workers outside Halifax Town Hall

Social worker Nicola Holt said,

“This is a very unfair proposal”.

Cllr Adam Wilkinson said,

“I think it’s shameful and a sad state of affairs that we’re in this position.”

Jago Parker, Chair of Halifax Labour Party, said,

“I’m here to represent the Labour Party and also to protect the local conditions and rights of local authority staff.

There’s a Conservative/LibDem proposal to remove the first 3 days of sick pay, and also to remove funding from Neighbourhood management work in North Halifax. Cutting that is going to affect lots of people directly on the ground.”

The chaotic Budget Meeting begs some questions. What was that all about? What kind of budget have we ended up with?  And is this the kind of budget process the public want the Council to follow?

Budget Meeting debates cross-party revised Budget proposals

Public seating in the Council chamber was packed. Those who couldn’t find seats tried to follow proceedings in a committee room, where two dodgy speakers relayed the debate more or less inaudibly.

The Budget Meeting started with a proposal from Labour Council Leader Cllr Tim Swift to accept the cross-party revised Cabinet Budget proposals for debate. The Council voted in favour of this.

Cllr Swift said that the Budget was constrained by the “savagery of central government cuts to local authority funding” and that the reduction of central government funding meant a “massive and fundamental change” to the way that local government works, that has made “huge demands” on staff.

Source:Calderdale Council

Source:Calderdale Council

Cllr Swift outlined the process which had led to the Cabinet Budget proposals. It had focussed on how to continue to deliver on the Council’s priorities, which include:

  • regeneration
  • fast broadband
  • infrastructure for the 21st century
  • managing the Council workforce better
  • Calderdale living wage

Cllr Swift said,

“The process has been informed by public debate that’s taken place throughout the year and we remain willing to engage with further discussion. We are happy to accommodate some of the Conservative and LibDem alliance proposed amendments, such as increased Cleaner Greener resources. But we don’t accept cuts to sick pay, cuts to union representation and cuts to Neighbourhood Working.”

Conservative Cllr Baines replied by blaming the spending cuts on the last Labour government. He said,

“Between 2004-2007 the last Labour government continuously spent more than its income.”

He went on to say.

“We do not agree with the budget proposed by Labour originally.”

He explained that the Conservatives got together with the LibDems to see if they could put forward an alternative budget, and that,

“The proposals we put forward this evening have all been accepted by our two groups.”

The main points in the revised Budget that he discussed were:

  • Reversals to the Cabinet budget’s proposed increases in parking charges, and introduction of parking schemes that would benefit people shopping at local businesses.
  • More funding to help advise businesses on how to increase exports.
  • Cutting the first 3 days’ of Calderdale staff sick pay, to be implemented six months down the line, but this cut would be withdrawn if workforce management reduced rates of sick leave to a level comparable to the private sector.
  • Allocation of £5k/year per ward, for ward funding. Cllr Baines said,

“Power follows the money and this means more power to the ward forums to help develop the community.”

Something he didn’t mention, but that Cllr James Baker tweeted after the meeting, is that the ConDem revised budget also removed the Cabinet Budget’s proposed cut to Resourceful Communities funding, saving 15 fte jobs over the three years of the Budget that would have been made redundant.

Mayor’s adjournment call blasts speaker off wall

A couple more councillors spoke before the Mayor’s bellowed call for an adjournment sent one of the committee room speakers crashing off its wall mount, onto the foot of a member of the public.

The adjournment

Sweating Councillors plodded out of the chamber. During the lengthy adjournment, rumours circulated and Council officials worked out the financial impact of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Amendment to the Revised Cabinet Budget Proposals. This info is given at the bottom of this article.

As an Independent Councillor pointed out, the monetary impact of the ConDem amendments is peanuts, set against the 3 year Council Budget of around £481m.

Councillors debate the full ConDem amendment to the Cabinet Budget

Following the adjournment, the Mayor clarified that what Councillors were now debating was the ConDem amendment to the Cabinet Budget in full.

Cllr Battye said the meeting reminded her of watching Top Gear and asked for a further adjournment to consider the two Labour amendments to the ConDem amendment.

The Mayor refused this request on the grounds that they were not yet debating the Labour amendments to the ConDem amendment, but the ConDem amendment itself.

Tories banged on about how parking charges in the Cabinet Budget would have damaged Calderdale’s high street businesses. Labour said the Tories were making an issue out of next to nothing. An Independent Councillor said it was time to stop fetishising the car and anyway there was no statutory duty for Councils to provide parking, so why not let the private sector do it?

An Independent Councillor also asked why the Cabinet Budget had cut Health and Social Care funding. He said there had been some double counting. £3.9m had gone into the HSC fund from the Better Care Fund, which was central government money to cut pressures on A&E.  At the same time, £5m had been cut from Adult Health & Social Care and the Economy and Environment budget had increased by £5m. He referred to Keogh’s comment to the Commons Health Select Committee, that councils could end up spending Better Care NHS money on filling potholes in the road.

ConDems justified going to the press with an alternative budget on the grounds that there had been a lack of cross-party groups to discuss budget proposals. Cllr Collins criticised the ConDems for “running to the press” with their budget proposals, rather than discussing them with the Labour group.

Councillors also discussed other key topics, including £200K/year in the revised ConDem budget for small works for schools.

Regarding proposed ConDem Budget cuts to Calderdale staff sick pay, Cllr Simon Young said that Calderdale Council’s rate of sick pay is the lowest of the 5 West Yorkshire councils, below the national Council average and heading in the right direction, and that Labour want to work hand in hand with the unions to reduce sick leave.

Cllr Swift said Labour could not support the removal of support for Trade Unions, and that a collective agreement is in place that has to be honoured. The hours that Mr Ashman, the Unison rep, works are part of that collective agreement. If his subsidised union rep hours are cut, other union reps will have to make good his hours, so all that would be saved is around £12k/year – the value of the free Council office he uses.

In response to the ConDem proposal to cut £500K Neighbourhood Working funds from Halifax and West Central Halifax, Cllr Swift said that the neighbourhood of West Central Halifax has a most challenging turnover of people. He disagreed with Cllr Baines’ statement that the Council has been pouring more and more money into Halifax communities but they haven’t improved, and defended the work of the two Neighbourhood Teams. Cllr Swift said,

“If there’s ever a case of a cut that’s penny wise and pound foolish, this is it.”

The Mayor asked Councillors to move to a vote, and clarified that the vote was on the Conservative/Liberal Democrat amendment to the Cabinet Budget. Aka the “substantive motion”.

26 Councillors voted in favour of the ConDem amendment to the Budget, 23 voted against.

Upper Calder Valley Councillors voting for the ConDem Budget amendment included Cllrs Battye, Baker, Beacroft Mitchell. UCV Councillors voting against the ConDem Budget amendment included Cllrs Sweeney, Fekri, David Young, Simon Young & Adam WIlkinson.

The Mayor then said that the meeting would next consider two Labour amendments to the substantive motion, and called a 10 minute adjournment for Councillors to consider the Labour amendments.

Labour amendment to remove proposed reduction in sick pay

Cllr Jayne Booth moved the amendment. She said,

“As employers, we have a legislative duty of care to employees, but the debate hasn’t looked at this.”

She pointed out that cuts to local authority funding mean stress in the workplace has worsened and sickness has increased. She said that the time to look at sickness is when the current Sickness Challenge is finished.

Seconding the amendment, Cllr Fekri told the ConDems that their proposal to cut the first 3 days of sick pay was:

“unwarranted, horrible, neo-Thatcherite nastiness. This is a sly, niggardly and obnoxious measure. You should be ashamed of yourself”.

Labour amendment to delete the cuts to Neighbourhood Working funds

Cllr Jenny Lynn moved the amendment. She said,

“I’m delighted to be able to speak up and mention the excellent work of the Halifax Neighbourhood Team. For the past 150 years, if not more, my ward, Park Ward, has received people from all over the world. That is its role. The fact that our neighbourhood and our town has not experienced riot and mayhem is because the Council has decided to invest in areas of greatest need.”

Cllr Lynn said that she has been inundated by people in her ward who have been appalled by the proposal to cut Neighbourhood Team funding, and she invited Councillors to allow this work to continue in our most disadvantaged communities.

Cllr Faisal Shoukrat seconded the motion and spoke about the effective community cohesion that was the result of Neighbourhood Team work. He said that Halifax was unique among Northern towns in its peaceful absence of riots and disturbances and that this achievement should not be jeopardised by cutting the work of Neighbourhood Teams.

Tory Councillors spoke up in favour of funding all pockets of deprivation across the Borough, not just the main areas of deprivation in Halifax. Their idea of fairness was to give the same £5k to each ward, regardless of the scale of deprivation within any ward. Labour Councillors agreed that all deprived areas should receive proper resources. They tried to point out that giving £5K to each ward would not create the level playing field the Tories said they were aiming for, but would simply reinforce existing inequalities. The Tories were not having any of it. In addition, a Tory Councillor said that since he’d grown up in a deprived area and hadn’t received any help, why should anyone else?

Put to the vote, Labour’s second amendment was rejected, with 22 in favour and 29 against. Among UCV Councillors, Cllrs Battye, Baker and Beacroft-Mitchell voted against the amendment, and Cllrs Fekri, S & D Young, S Sweeney and Adam Wilkinson voted in favour.

Impact of Con/Dem Amendment to Revised Cabinet Budget Proposals

  • from 2014/15, to remove the £35K saving from the additional funding for Police Community Support Officers
  • in 2014/15 only, to add £100K for Small Capital Works for Schools and to add £88K for Safer Cleaner Greener spending (mostly clearing up dog poo and keeping parks tidy)
  • an extra £272K in 2014/15 and £245K in 2015/16 and 2016/17 for Economic Task Force Resources
  • increase the charge for replacing wheelie bins, creating additional saving of £50k/year
  • cut £100K in 2014/15 and £200K from 2015/16 from Neighbourhood Working
  • remove subsidy for Trade Unions (37K from 2014/15)
  • remove staff sickness pay for first 3 days of sickness (£200K in 2014/15 and £400K from 2015/16)
  • bring forward saving on subscriptions to Local Government Yorkshire and Humberside (£30K 2014/15 only)
  • contributions to and from general balances keep the Council tax increase at 0% in 2014/15 and 2015/16 and allow for a Council Tax increase of 1% in 2016/17.

Campaign for a Fair Society report

This report published on behalf of the Campaign for a Fair Society summarises the impact of the UK Government’s cuts programme.

Counting the Cuts

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