U-turn could be a disaster

HAVING thought long and hard about my response to the council’s recent amendments to the budget proposals, I decided to object to the amendments that were put forward at the council meeting nearly two weeks ago.

Every year there happen to be one or two last minute issues that need ironing out before the full budget gets agreed.

Almost always they come down to moving £20,000 or £30,000 from funding one thing to another and in a budget of over £200m it never really makes that much difference to the final outcome.

There are a couple of bits within the council’s amendments that are not that important in the bigger picture.

A ward fund for councillors and a new furniture project would cost about £200,000 and I wouldn’t lose any sleep if we ended up funding both of these.

I have not objected to the council’s amendment about setting up a fund to help retrain and upskill staff who are at threat from redundancy and in the redeployment pool.

I think it an extremely laudable suggestion but I do have a problem with us saying the funding is coming from the savings generated when the staff went on strike.

Through extremely good financial management during this last year, we have managed to come in more than £4m under spent on this year’s budget.

This retraining budget can be set up from any part of this saving.

It may seem like a small, pedantic point, but I think it is an important one. Again, it is almost inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

The one big sticking point in this whole thing, as I mentioned last week, is the amendment from the Council not to fund the upfront costs of outsourcing ICT/Revenues and Benefits.

I’m afraid I cannot just sit back and allow this amendment to go unchallenged. The potential consequences doing a U-turn at this stage could be disastrous and end up costing many people their jobs for a number of years.

If I didn’t object to this amendment, I would be doing the council, the staff and especially the public a huge disservice.

It is absolutely the correct course of action given the circumstances we are in.

To change now would not only leave the council’s reputation in tatters with any future partners, it would, and I can’t stress this point enough, it would leave dozens, if not hundreds of council staff jobs at risk over the next couple of years.

My fear is that many councillors do not fully understand the outsourcing process and therefore don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation.

In many meetings, they have seemed to choose to ignore council officers’ professional advice and there is definitely a sense that, because the cabinet are proposing this, it must be wrong and therefore opposed.

I have said since my first day in office that there should be no place for party politics in local government and this is a prime example of why.

Party political councillors are told how they have to vote despite what they might think themselves. I know for a fact that there are some councillors who totally agree with outsourcing these services but are being forced to oppose them by their party.

This cannot be healthy for democracy and is certainly not healthy for the future of the council.

I will continue to try and convince councillors right up until tomorrow night’s meeting that they are making a huge mistake by supporting this amendment.

I would suggest that each one goes and finds out for themselves the true facts about the decision they are going to make instead of listening to a few ring leaders.

It actually will come down to an individual choice of each councillor on the decision they are going to make.

If they can go to bed at night knowing that they have made their decision based on the facts and what they truly believe in, then fine, I’d be more than happy to accept the outcome.

If, however, they make their decision based on what others are trying to force them to do and going against their true beliefs and principles, then they are the ones who have to live with themselves and I will find it hard to respect or trust them again