10 Feb 2009

Last night's Council meeting

Last night I attended the Council meeting at Wallasey town hall. Sadly the so-called strategic asset review (SAR) was voted through with devastating impacts on our libraries and community facilities. You can read more about it in the Globe and the News.

This wasn’t the only depressing aspect of the evening. Almost without exception, the contributions from our elected councillors were a sad reflection on the state of local democracy in Wirral. My chief observations are

Most Labour councillors were notable by their absence from the floor. All of them voted in favour of the SAR.

Most of the contributions were long on political rhetoric and desperately short on real content. Considered contributions from the floor were notable by their absence. This particularly applies to the Conservative Party for whom it is very easy to attack the SAR but it seems beyond them to come up with detailed, effective and practical solutions to the Council’s financial crisis.

There is clearly considerable turmoil within the Liberal Democrats. It is a pity that more of them didn’t follow the handful in voting against the SAR. Not just because the SAR is in itself an abomination but voting it down might just have forced everyone to go back to square one and conduct a thorough financial audit and a real consultation with the public about the savings that need to be made.

I want to make it clear that the mess the Council finds itself in is a result of a failure to manage its affairs properly over many years and all of the mainstream parties are culpable in this. It is unfortunate that there is not a greater willingness among politicians to own up to their failings but that is the world we live in and one I would like to help change.

However, we are where we are and there is no getting away from the fact that economic circumstances are putting a huge strain on local government finances. This will only get worse, at least in the near term.

A grown-up, Green approach to this problem would work something like this. The Council should be totally up front about its financial predicament and lay bare its finances to independent scrutiny. It should identify how much money it needs to save and allow an extended period for informed debate as to how that best can be achieved. When push comes to shove people can be very imaginative about raising additional finance and cutting costs where vital public services are concerned. Unfortunately, the opaque and rushed consultation process has only served to antagonise everyone and make the public even more bitter about the political process.

A reminder that the original Green Party response to the SAR can be viewed at http://www.wirralgreenparty.org.

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