At last night’s budget-setting meeting at Oldham Civic Centre, the Liberal Democrat/Conservative administraton’s plans for the coming financial year were passed. The final tally was 31 votes to 29, and you can read a full Saddleworth News report of the meeting by clicking here.
Voting was almost entirely on party lines, and so all nine Saddleworth and Lees councillors voted with their Lib Dem colleagues in favour of the budget. The proposals feature £41m of savings, including £21m forced by a cut in the grant the council receives from central government.
Four of the Saddleworth councillors rose to speak during the debate. Cllr Brian Lord, who represents Saddleworth West and Lees and is a member of the council’s Cabinet, chose to criticise aspects of the alternative budget put forward by the opposition Labour group.
Cllr Lord told the meeting: “Labour’s budget may be deliverable, but it’s downright risky.” He described some of the savings suggested by Labour as “pie in the sky” before criticising opposition councillors for being “big on soundbites, and rather short on detail.”
Lees-based Cllr Val Sedgwick made a brief contribution, criticising Labour’s plan to cut the position of co-ordinator on affordable warmth, which is the new name for what we used to call fuel poverty. That was ultimately moot, as the Labour alternative budget wasn’t passed.
Cllr Alan Roughley, who lives in Denshaw and represents Saddleworth North, brought up Labour’s idea of replacing casual library staff with volunteers to save about £100,000. He questioned whether that was realistic, and made a defence of the role of libraries in our education system, especially in helping to teach children. Again, with Labour’s plans falling, the role of casual library workers appears unchanged.
Dobcross-based Cllr Mike Buckley, the borough’s champion for heritage matters, criticised Labour for “years of indifference” to the issues involved: “They’ve had decades to do it and have demonstrably done nothing.” He described a Labour promise to spend £1.5m on the old gallery building as a “cynical, token gesture” because he understood it would take £8m to get it into “good order.”
Meanwhile, veteran Saddleworth Conservative Cllr John Hudson, who lives in Greenfield but these days represents Chadderton Central, described the budget as “tough medicine, but it’s necessary.” He also defended Tory Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, a target for anger from various speakers last night, saying he’d “known him a long time” and that much of the criticism was unfair.
Cllr Hudson also praised council leader Cllr Howard Sykes for “all the hard work and the hours he’s put in” during the budget-setting process. Cllr Hudson joined the nine Saddleworth councillors in supporting the coalition administration’s budget.
For updates of the meeting as it happened check the Saddleworth News Twitter feed here.
You can get the full details of the various proposals by looking at the agenda for the meeting here.