Perhaps the outcome was no surprise, but the process was eventful.
Words: Alec Saelens
Infographic: Lucas Batt
A boisterous full council meeting yesterday saw the proposed 2017-18 budget passed by the Labour council majority, with a vote of 35 for, 27 against and four abstentions (see break down below). The Labour benches further flexed their muscles by voting down of all amendments proposed by other parties.
Protests in the room
The controversial budget prompted a several-hundred strong protest outside City Hall, while proceedings inside were repeatedly interrupted by angry outbursts from the public gallery (and a fire alarm).
Introducing the meeting to review this year’s budget, Mayor Rees said there was “no hiding from financial difficulties” and a one-year-only budget would be set as a “corrective step”.
He presented the proposed budget cuts of £33m for the next year in the context of central government cuts to local authority funding – claiming that before taking on Westminster “we need to be on top of our finances”.
At that point, protesters in the public gallery expressed discontent with the proposed plans. “You need to challenge central government,” one said. In response to being asked to keep silent by the Lord Mayor another complained, “We’re always told to be quiet until it’s too late”.
Once the protest temporarily calmed the Mayor proceeded to argue the need to move ahead with the budget. “This is a legal budget,” he said. A protester replied, “But is it moral!?”
Speaking after the Mayor, Labour Cllr Tincknell said she “didn’t come into politics to cut public services”. Yet she went on to explain that central government civil servants would step in to administer the council instead of the current management team if an ‘illegal budget’, one based on overspending, was agreed to.
Following further disruptions from the public gallery, the meeting was adjourned until all protesters agreed to move out of the council chamber and to follow proceedings on screens elsewhere in the building.
Any other business?
Other key decisions of the evening were to increase council tax by 4.99% and to appoint the new Council Chief executive, Anna Klonowski, who will take on the role with immediate effect.
Mayor Rees also took the opportunity to announce a new investigation would be launched into the reasons behind the £29m gap in the budget set by the Ferguson administration for 2016-17.
A previous independent report found that the previous administration fostered incompetent management practices. The Mayor will now ask the Local Government Authority to appoint a new consultant to look into the “culture of concealment” that led to a budget deficit bigger than expected.
Details of how the discussions and votes during the Full Council can be reviewed on the Council website.