There has been a lot of discussion and speculation over what happened at the Budget Council meeting last Thursday, and what it all means.
Let me put the record straight.
Despite the cuts of over £20 million and council tax increases forced on us by the Conservative government, there are a huge amount of positive measures in the Budget on things like grants to the community and voluntary sector, social care services and basic environmental services that we needed to get approved. Including the money for schools, housing and capital, the total budget is around £800 million.
There were six amendments from the Conservatives, including two that between them cut the number of funded trades union posts in the council from 10 to around 3. The money saved was to direct funding to a range of things including gully cleaning, verge cutting and public toilets. In total the money involved was well under £500,000.
The Greens said publicly well in advance of the meeting that they would vote against the Budget as a whole, whatever happened, as they could not support a budget that contained any cuts. That gave the Conservatives the certain knowledge that they had a majority – 11 Greens and 20 Tories – to outvote the 23 Labour councillors in the final vote. Despite pledging not to get involved in the Budget at all, the Greens indicated the day before the meeting that they would be supporting two Tory amendments.
So my Labour Administration went into the Budget knowing that the Tories would win two amendments, and the Greens and Tories would unite to vote down the Budget as a whole.
That is exactly what happened.
At that point in proceedings, several crucial things happened. Despite us having voted down the Tory amendments cutting trade union time, as soon as the Budget was voted down by the Green and Conservative groups, all of the Tory amendments were put back on the table. Including the cut of 6-8 union posts.
The Greens said they would play no further part, and would not negotiate. The Tories insisted that they would continue to vote the Budget down too, knowing that if one was not set, the Government would then step in and makes even deeper cuts instead.
Going to a second Budget meeting would simply have taken us to the same point, with higher stakes.
I had a choice. Negotiate or be voted down by a Green/Tory alliance. Two parties with a common aim – to score a political hit on the Labour administration whilst distancing themselves from the consequences of their actions.
I negotiated a deal that protected 9 of the 10 union posts, but which made over £150,000 in further cuts to “management and administration” demanded by the Tories. That sounds painless enough, but in reality that means more jobs lost. Whether a senior manager, admin assistant or street cleaner, the effect is the same, someone loses their job.
The fact is that none of those further cuts were necessary. All those posts lost in the negotiated settlement – including the trades union post – could have been saved. The Tories could easily have been deprived of their ability to push for further job cuts in order to get what they wanted.
All that had to happen would have been for the Greens to abstain on the main Budget vote. They did not have to support the Budget, simply give the Labour administration the ability to vote down Tory amendments and the 3 vote majority to pass the Budget by not taking part. They refused.
Next time someone says Labour and the Greens should work together to prevent Tory cuts, remember this sorry and shameful example of Green councillors putting their own political interests ahead of people’s jobs.