See previous article – Salford Council Drama As Police Called To Evict Cuts Protesters – click here
As Salford City Mayor Ian Stewart opened and closed the Salford Council meeting that voted in favour of £23.4million of cuts, his own councillors' eyes looked glazed as he waffled on and on and on, repeating himself over and over again about the "hard reality of the times we live in"… "the most challenging decisions I've had to make in my political life"…and how it is "a budget of cuts forced upon us by the Government" etc etc. We saw one councillor definitely nodding off…
While no-one could doubt the seriousness of the subject matter and the social impact of the decisions, Stewart's two speeches were like something out of a post war Soviet politburo, which someone clocked at ninety minutes but seemed like ten hours.
Within the soporific outpourings of the Mayor's first speech were the gruesome reality of the cuts (see here for full details), particularly those in Adult Social Care… "We have to do things that will upset some of the most vulnerable people" he said adding that the Council "can no longer maintain services for people with moderate needs…that is the hard reality for the times we live in."
Meanwhile, the city's "overstretched" Welfare Rights department, "the best in the country", is being cut… "the irony is that we are forced to make reductions in resources when need increases".
Aware of criticism of Council spending on prestige projects, while slashing public services, Stewart said that the public money being poured into Chapel Street would create "up to 11,000 jobs" and that the Irwell River Park would create "up to 3,000 jobs". In both cases Stewart emphasised the words "up to" so that his statements wouldn't come back to haunt him…
…Like MediaCityUK and those, er, 15,000 jobs… "Critics will say that it's not for Salford people and they are right. Salford people are not getting the high end jobs and that is not acceptable…the issue is being addressed in terms of learning and skills…"
Stewart concluded that "I make no apologies to anyone for our capital investment". But, in almost the very next sentence, he contradicted himself, relaying that 28,500 people in Salford are claiming out of work benefits and 5,500 young people were out of work… "This is not acceptable".
The £multi-millions invested so far are obviously not paying off. And the jobs `jam tomorrow' approach has, unfortunately, been heard too often before.
The £millions being spent on fountains, river paths and prestige gateways to Manchester, coupled with social care cuts for the "hard reality for the times we live in" was too much for protesters in the public gallery, who began whistling and brandishing red cards as soon as Ian Stewart eventually stopped talking (see here).
Once the police had politely asked protesters to leave, to which they politely agreed, councillors filed back into the chamber… "Well that was exciting" said the ceremonial Mayor…
Next up was the Conservative opposition's chance to put amendments into the budget, which, given the zillion Labour Party majority, had absolutely no chance of being accepted.
The Tories proposed £2.5million of additional `savings' including three days compulsory unpaid leave at Christmas for all Council workers earning over £21,000, reductions in sickness pay and overtime, and reductions in funding for public sector trade unions officers.
They also proposed cutting funding completely for the Working Class Movement Library, a 5% cut for The Lowry, scrapping three Council press officers, a £50,000 reduction in the Media City budget, deferral of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra sponsorship, and the use of external advertising to fund the Council's Life in Salford magazine. Other proposals included reducing the number of Assistant Mayors from 13 to five, whilst imposing a freeze on councillor and mayoral allowances…
…Apparently the ruling Labour Party budget included a 1% rise in such allowances, which was never made clear in any budget proposals or public documents…(although on Twitter tonight Assistant Mayor John Merry wrote that this wasn't the case)
In exchange for these savings the Tories would put £2.5million back into the budget to reverse some of the worst excesses of the Labour cuts. Over £1million would be put back into Children's Services for `early intervention' and `starting life well', while they would defer the Adult Social Care `substantial needs only' proposal, scrap the charging policy for adult care and cuts for in house supported accommodation for adults with learning difficulties. They would also put over £250,000 back into street cleaning, while providing £200,000 for business start up support.
The `alternative' Tory budget was met with derision from Labour councillors, John Ferguson slating their "crocodile tears" for disadvantaged people, when the first thing their Government did was slash £4million off Salford Council's funding.
John Merry asked where the Salford Conservatives were when the Government cut £1.2million from Salford's `early intervention' grant… "they didn't man the barricades".
Peter Wheeler gave the Conservatives the Scrooge Award 2014 for their proposal not to pay staff over Christmas, while Bill Hinds branded the alternative budget "a gimmick".
While Conservative councillors protested that their budget wasn't a gimmick because there are no local elections this year, Labour councillors lined up to attack the Government and its local "apologists"… David Lancaster said he was "ashamed that food banks are here in Salford", while Peter Connor insisted that the Conservative Party is "still a nasty party".
The Tories budget was then, as expected, voted onto the scrapheap. Which just left City Mayor Ian Stewart to waffle on forever, hand wringing about the "cuts forced on us by the ConDem Government", which will bring "great suffering, real hardship for the people of Salford and their families…"
He formerly proposed the £23.4million cuts budget and all, except the Tories, voted it through. By the end of the meeting there was no anger or pity…just relief that the Mayor had finally shut up.
The most truthful statement of the day came when Salford City UNISON branch secretary, Steve North, was addressing protesters on the steps of the Civic Centre before the Council meeting began.
"I've just been talking to one of the Labour councillors and he was saying to me that they all have their views, and they're all very, very unhappy about these proposals and what these things mean, but when they go into the meeting they go as a block" he said "They meet on a Monday as the Labour Group, and they get told how to vote.
"So, for the people of Salford there doesn't appear to be any opposition politically whatsoever to these cuts that are taking place" he added "That's the challenge for us, to continue to push this Council to understand that what the people of this city expect them to do is to campaign against cuts, to challenge the Government, to stand up for the people who elected them - and not just stand up for a Mayor who tells them how to vote on a given day…
"I can guarantee that the cuts they're voting for today will have an impact – privatising services, denying care for people with moderate needs, taking away the support that's required for people to enjoy the green spaces that Salford politicians rightly shout about; these are the things that matter" he concluded "We've got a duty to fight – otherwise, god knows what Salford will look like in ten years time."