Outside Salford Civic Centre this morning, the Salford Star tried hard to question councillors and Assistant Mayors about whether they would be voting to approve the appointment of a Fat Cat £150,000 Head of Paid Services, and, if so, how they could justify it in the midst of £24.5million cuts and 300 jobs being axed…
Virtually all them declined to comment. Former Council Leader, John Merry was saying nothing; Councillor John Warmisham replied `There's nothing to say'; Assistant Mayor Stephen Coen said `I'm declining to partake in an answer just now'; Assistant Mayor Peter Connor legged it, as did Deputy Mayor David Lancaster.
Lisa Stone, Assistant Mayor for Communication, was also strangely coy, saying she would vote for the recommendation but refused to justify why a £150,000 Fat Cat was being taken on in the midst of horrendous cuts… `But you're the Communications Mayor' we implored `Surely you'd like to communicate your reasons for the Fat Cat appointment?' Silence.
Meanwhile, Councillor Joe Murphy did respond to the question… "We need the best we can get to extract out of this Coalition Government the best we can to protect our services and protect our workers".
All around Councillor Murphy, however, Salford Council staff didn't quite see it like that as members of UNISON and Unite, carrying placards reading `No More Council Fat Cats' shouted `Shame on you…Shame on you…'
Dave Gorton, UNISON member in the leaving care project, told the Star that he couldn't comment on the Fat Cat appointment because "I might swear". He did, however, spell out how the cuts will affect the vulnerable young people he works with…
"When they leave care they have workers who support them in a transition to moving into their own place but the Council is proposing to cut every single one of those jobs" he explained "We struggle as it is to try and keep care leavers in employment and in accommodation, so we know that this cost cutting is going to cause major problems and we're going to see more and more young people failing because the service is not there to support them through a very, very difficult period in their lives."
So whose fault is it – the Tory led Government or the Mayor of Salford?
"It's the Tories but also the Mayor as well" he said "Are we supposed to just sit back and say `It's the Tories?' No. The Mayor is the one who is making that decision and we have to direct it at the Mayor, who has to understand that the vulnerable people in Salford are the ones who are getting targeted all the time."
His sentiments were underlined by welfare advice worker, Steve Quinn, who told the crowd of trade unionists, anti-frackers and community activists that union members in his department had asked to be consulted on industrial action…
"We have lots of vulnerable people who need assistance, advice is something citizens need and the proposals being made will devastate those services, particularly in areas like supported housing" he said "Our jobs are important but these are crucial services for Salford. If the Council isn't willing to defend them, we will."
Indeed, Salford City UNISON branch secretary, Steve North, told the demonstrators that "If we are threatened with compulsory redundancies and attacks on our terms and conditions we will be looking to take strike action because, while people may say `Well a day or two days strike action will have a detrimental affect on services' that will be nothing compared to getting rid of those services completely, which is what this Council is proposing to do in many areas."
Dave Thornley, the parent of a disabled child, spoke from the heart about how the £150,000 being spent on the Fat Cat would keep the short term respite facility at The Grange open for four months, rather than closing it and pushing 14 year old children in with adults at Granville…
"If this Council were to put mainstream children in with adults, World War Three would break out" he said "All this Council wants to do is make cuts and make more cuts. I have a 15 year old disabled child who this council doesn't seem to want to support any more."
Ameen Hadi, from Salford City UNISON, compared Salford City Mayor Ian Stewart to David Cameron…
"None of us is going to benefit from Peel Holdings or the BBC in Salford" he said "Unfortunately Ian Stewart is playing the same game as David Cameron is playing – he's chasing the rich and powerful and not worrying what happens to the poor, the vulnerable in society. We have a duty as a union and a community to say `Enough is enough'.
"We will organise, we will fight back and make sure that actually our voice is heard" he added "If Ian Stewart isn't willing to fight against the Government or multi national corporations we are willing to do so. In the meantime we're here to today to tell them they should not employ a chief exec on £150,000."
Inside the full Council meeting, the Labour councillors and Assistant Mayors, to a background sound from the public gallery of catcalls, hisses and `shame on you', duly voted to appoint a new Fat Cat Head of Paid Services on a salary up to £150,000, with, ironically, the Tory councillors voting against.
And, for `good measure', the Council also voted to increase payments that the very poorest people in Salford have to make towards their Council Tax from 8.5% to 12.5%.
It all left the anti-fracking contingent from the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp absolutely baffled, asking the Salford Star reporter whether the Mayor was actually Labour or Conservative.
The Barton Moss contingent had come down to the Civic Centre to show solidarity with the anti-Fat Cat demonstration and also to raise awareness of their own campaign against the IGas exploratory drilling site.
"We're here to raise awareness against the dangers of fracking and at the same time to support other groups who are fighting back" said Boris, who had slept in a tent on the Civic Centre lawn the previous night "It was brilliant, lots of local residents came and supported me with coffee and food, it was amazing. We'll be back."
...And so will the Council staff, who have called an even bigger demonstration when Salford Council next meets to approve its budget on 26th February.