Bruce Springsteen, Nelson Mandela and other meaningless drivel in the Town Hall…
Now, before anyone kicks off that I’m being disrepectful to Mandela or unkind to Springsteen, read on…
Tonight was my second meeting of the Council in the Town Hall. It started off with former Councillor Kate Wood being made an honorary alderman in recognition for her work as a councillor for 38 years. I was pleased to see another honorary alderman, david Fletcher CBE, in attendance. He’s been a big help to me over many years. Kate ended her remarks with the view that parties should work together more to tackle the problems we face. Some hope…
Among the first things on the agenda was petitions and I was pleased to present 571 cards returned by residents of Moreton and Leasowe opposing plans to give councillors free iPads. At this point, several councillors groaned…or maybe I misheard and it was actually collective indigestion. Strangely, Leasowe Labour’s petition to ‘save the pensioner bus passes’ was nowhere to be seen.
Next up, the Dear Leader, Phil Davies, made his announcements, one of which concerned our new allotments in Leasowe. I’ll report back on this in more detail on Wednesday but, in any case, his support for what we are doing is appreciated.
After a bit more waffle, we came to the nomination for Mayor and Deputy Mayor when the present incumbents step down. At this point, my mate Chris Blakeley asked if the report from Cabinet nominating Dave Mitchell (Mayor) and Steve Foulkes (Deputy Mayor) was for information, to which the Council’s (Acting?) Head of Law advised it was and that a decision would not be taken for a couple of months.
This was followed by a few items about financial monitoring. Looking at the state the council’s finances are in, I can’t help but think they are trying to close the stable door long after the horse has bolted and ended up in a Findus Pancake…
Cllr. Stuart Kelly, the thinking man’s Lib Dem, or the best Leader they haven’t got, depending on your point of view, asked the Dear Leader about the council’s implementation of a Living Wage of £7.49 an hour. This policy was introduced by the previous council and aimed to ensure all council staff are paid a wage which enables them to ‘live’. What all those staff who have been told that their jobs are now ‘at risk’ must think I have no idea but I’m pleased that the Dear Leader Council confirmed that staff will be paid a living wage and that we’ll encourage suppliers and contractors to follow suit.
All this was over and done with in about 40 minutes, at which point we arrived at the usual ‘highlight’ (irony alert) of ‘Notices of Motion’. And, for the next two long hours, various members attempted to score political points on the back of various debates, most of which are completely out of our hands as councillors but make us all feel like politicians and influential on national political issues. So influential, that the number of people in the public gallery was dropping fast.
1. Unfair cuts to local government funding: moved by Labour but essentially a load of selective use of facts and figures to make Eric Pickles lose sleep.
2. Council Tax referendum: Conservative call for a (whisperered) possible rise in Wirral’s Council Tax by Labour to be put to a local referendum. Quickly dismissed by Labour and Lib Dems because it would cost money. On that basis, let’s scrap elections altogether…
3. Council finances: Lib Dem version of (1) only being nicer about the Government and highlighting the mismanagement of the council’s own budget since the days of Jeremy Thorpe. Or something like that.
During one of these debates (and by this point, I was losing the will to live), the Honourable Member for New Brighton, the deselected Pat Glasman of New Brighton, made what can only be described as one of the most bizarre speeches I’ve heard – she started off by mentioning Bruce Springsteen and, later, Nelson Mandela. The looks on the faces of the Labour councillors nearby said it all. If this was her attempt to get reselected, I’m not sure it’s working.
Cllr. Sylvia Hodrien (Labour, Upton) also spoke and used a passage from Pastor Niemoller about the need for people to speak up now about the cuts and not be afraid. It’s a pity she wasn’t around when Martin Morton (who was in the gallery) was being victimised and bullied when her Party was last in charge of the Town Hall; I’m sure he would have been delighted to have a Labour councillor speaking up for him.
Fortunately, by 9pm, it was decided that there would be no more speeches but we would simply vote on the remaining notices of motion. So…
4. We all voted in favour of keeping vascular services in Wirral but as we have no power on the NHS, the move to Chester will probably go ahead anyway.
5. I voted in favour of keeping regular local elections and opposing Labour’s plan to only have council elections every four years. I’m not against changing the council elections but I think Labour’s plan is a missed opportunity and I’ll blog about this next week.
In an earlier debate, I was pleased to see another mate (you see, skeptics, I have at least two…), Leah Fraser, hit back at comments made in a Wallasey and New Brighton Area Forum. The words ‘Hill Dickinson’ were mentioned, and probably not for the last time. In a weird coincidence, Cllr. Darren Dodd spoke next…mainly to criticise his opponents.
6. We all voted in favour of improving the condition of many private rented homes in the Borough – mainly through selective licensing of landlords to encourage higher standards among those landlords who couldn’t give a toss.
7. I voted against Labour’s call to attack the government over transferring more decision making to local councils because a) it was a not-too-veiled attack for the sake of attacking and b) it wouldn’t change anything. I do, in any case, welcome some of the lifting of controls on what councils can and can’t do.
8. I voted against another Labour attack on national politics – this time on changes to tax credits. If Labour has a policy on tax credits, it was well hidden tonight and, again, didn’t make any difference to anyone, anywhere.
9. We all voted against the scandal of construction industry blacklists, which I am sure the GMB union will be delighted to hear.
10. I voted against yet another Labour attack – this time on their view of who was to blame for the scandal of payday loans. No mention of their deregulation of loans and bankers when in government and no mention of how people relying on payday loans can be helped. There followed two more Labour attack motions on universal credit and tax avoidance.
Again, no mention of what they would do, so, yet again, I voted against meaningless political grandstanding and gesture politics.
So, depending on your favourite Spingsteen album, tonight, your esteemed
66 64 councillors* were either ‘working on a dream’ or being let loose with a ‘wrecking ball’. The overall effect on the long-suffering residents of Wirral was, in all probability, nil.
After that, I was glad to say hello to Jack Daniels. I would really have rather been in Leasowe and Moreton tonight – at the Youth Night or catching up with those residents who have had the kettle on since January 17th…
* correction: there were 64 councillors present: Cllr. Abbey was absent and Cllr McCubbin has resigned.