Thursday, 20 February 2014

Smallest Budget – Shortest Budget Meeting

Medway Council's meeting this evening to set the coming financial year's budget (including a modest increase in Council Tax), as well as a couple of other items of business, was over in a shorter-than-expected time of around two and a hour hours, in fact a fraction under that.

Again we had the claque of public sector Union bods flooding the public gallery – well, not quite as it happened, as an additional 108 seats (six rows of nine each side of the aisle: I counted 'em) had been put out, but not one of them was needed. Of course they had their own (largely disruptive, as before) agenda, and again they – and Labour councillors – tried to suggest that the sixty or so there represented 'the people of Medway'.

Oh no they don't: they number under a fortieth of a percent of the borough's population, who are vastly more diverse than the one-dimensional batch we had dominating the public gallery this evening. As I strongly suspected last time, this is to become a permanent feature of Full Council meetings for 2014 and beyond. Fortunately, trouble had been anticipated and there was a police presence throughout – which tells you something, and which probably explains why the claque was less extreme in its behaviour this time round.

Not that they had rehearsed or planned the occasion's activities all that well: at least once, Cllr Vince Maple (Labour group leader), deploying his most nasty ever voice, paused significantly for the expected applause, but his dimwit claque forgot to applaud until he glared at them. They shouted over him too much as well, and that caused obvious annoyance to the Labour leader.

This clearly wasn't what they had planned between them (and yes, it was glaringly obvious that it was all a set-up job: one didn't need to a senior member of MENSA to work that out).

As for the speeches: as always at these events, each political group (just three this year) gets unlimited time to speak for one member, after which the normal rules apply including the three-minute limit. Here are the timings for each speaker, with last year's figures in parantheses...
  • Cllr Jarrett [Con] – 36m 42s (2013: 51m 05s)
  • Cllr Maple [Lab] – 17m 55s (2013: 21m 54s)
  • Cllr Juby [LD]  – 5m 15s (2013: 5m 11s)
So, all were shorter – although only fractionally in the Lib Dem case. The pattern was broadly the same, though. Cllr Jarrett went through his budget in moderate detail, highlighting a number of generally good initiatives as he does every year. I could tell that it was becoming a ever tighter struggle to make it work, and was stretching a point here and there; but overall it turns out to be a well designed and structured budget that it, by and large, good news if not exactly wildly exciting.

Labour did what they always do (at least since 2010, when the national government changed, so this is the fifth such occurrence in this exact form), which is to ignore their job and instead abuse the unlimited time-frame and more extensive than usual media presence as a platform to attack the national government on various topics, rather than deal with Medway's council budget.

As ever, they tried to camouflage that aspect by token references to 'the effect on Medway' or 'services in Medway' or some other such artifice, but probably few will be fooled by that. On the rare occasions that there was any actual Medway relevance, it was the usual tired old rhetoric, at best misleading and at its worst out-and-out dishonest.

As in previous years, they have not contributed any budget proposals of their own, either in advance or as amendments on the night, showing they have nothing to offer. Once upon a time (and I witnessed this personally) they did contribute to the budget debate proper, and I have known the Conservative Group occasionally accept at least part of their proposals where they were properly costed, funded from actual sources, and justified – so it can be done.

It just isn't done nowadays, though, because the Labour Group are now worthless to the Medway community; and they obviously realise it themselves, so bluster instead, hoping that no-one will notice. It is very telling indeed that they have felt the need (desperation?) to employ such severely underhand techniques as those we witnessed at this and the previous council meeting.

They have shown not only how low they are prepared to sink, and how inherently dishonest they are, but also that they have absolutely nothing of any value to offer. That is now proven, and will never be forgotten: the line has been crossed, on a one-way street!

In the end, the budget was of course passed, on a so-called 'recorded vote', with the Conservative Group (all but one absebtee who was abroad doing charity work this evening) voting for it, the Labour Group (all but two absenttes) voting against, and two of the Liberal Deocrats not voting at all. The third Lib Dem (Cllr Diana Smith) voting 'for', which probably surprised a few others there – but |I have long known that the lady's heart is in the right place, and I doubt that many if any of the other councillors, of any party, would disagree.

This does mean that Medway's Council Tax will be going up a little (just under two percent), the first rise in four years. Contrast that with the national double of Council Tax during the Labour years, though not as severe as that here, admittedly. It will still be the lowest rate in Kent, and remain one of the lowest in the country. It's a very good deal; and I think that the voters of Medway would do well to remember this when they go to the polls in next year's all-out council elections here.

Addendum: As expected, the Labour-friendly media outlets are already posting slanted (and, frankly, very limited and largely irrelevant) commentary on the meeting. I am not going to waste your time on them, so am not even going to bother to post any links to these (they are that far beneath contempt) but I shall certainly remember who they are, in case of future encounters, perhaps at a later Council meeting.

The biggest clue to the first of these I encountered today was that there was nothing whatsoever in the article about the actual business of the evening: the budget, or any other item on the agenda. Nothing! Big give-away there...

Y'see: there are essentially two types of reporter (and pseudo-reporter): those who report what is, fully and across the board; and those who write selectively to promote a specific agenda. The latter are trash, and best ignored.

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