“It’s gob-smacking and you would really question your faith in Salford City Council’s political system today”


Star date: 24th July 2014


“It’s gob-smacking and you would really question your faith in Salford City Council’s political system today” Steve North, Salford City UNISON

There was fury yesterday as six councillors sitting on Salford Council’s Budget Scrutiny Committee unanimously voted to reject a `call in’ to reconsider over £4million of cuts to services for vulnerable people in the city.

salford anti cuts campaigners photo by steven speedThe call in was brought by three Labour councillors, who, backed by service users, argued against the cuts on both financial, safety and moral grounds. But UNISON’s Steve North said afterwards, “We put our faith in the democratic process, were patronised and then told unanimously that we needn’t have bothered.”
Having just heard that six councillors (five Labour and one Tory) sitting on Salford Council’s Budget Scrutiny Committee had unanimously rejected a call in of £4.4million cuts to services for the city’s most vulnerable people, Steve North, Salford City UNISON’s branch secretary, was shaking his head in furious disbelief…

“It’s gobsmacking and you would really question your faith in Salford City Council’s political system today to actually even be able to listen to the views of ordinary people and respond accordingly to the questions that people have asked” he fumed.

“There was no attempt to talk about anything other than `Oh isn’t this terrible, what a sorry state Salford Council is in'” he scorned “Undoubtedly there are huge cuts from central Government but they think that’s an excuse to poorly manage council finances, make terrible decisions and not consider the views of the people who work in those services and use those services.

“They think that blaming the Government allows them to do anything they want to do, and that we somehow have to accept it because cuts are a reality” he added “Well actually people went in there today and didn’t say `Don’t vote for cuts’, they said `Look within your own finances, here are some discrepancies that we have highlighted and need you to look at, please will you spend just a little bit of time looking at them and considering them?’ And the answer unanimously was `No’.”

The call in had been brought by three Labour councillors – Peter Wheeler, Brendan Ryan and Paul Brocklehurst – and, backed by around two dozen services users, workers and campaigners, Councillor Wheeler began his anti-cuts argument by asking the Scrutiny Committee to “bear in mind that there is a contingency of over £6million for savings that cannot be achieved”.

He went through each of cuts to specific services – Passenger Transport Unit, Housing Options/Supported Tenancy Service, Welfare Rights and Debt Advice, Care On Call and Mental Health Floating Support – detailing safety issues, giving alternative proposals and even documenting increased costs to the Council as a result of the `savings’.

Meanwhile, the Salford Council team – led by decision maker Peter Connor, Assistant Mayor for Adult Social Services, and Sue Lightup, Strategic Director of Community Health and Social Care – stuck to the four areas of `process’ as she saw it… `Openness’, `Clarity’, Due Consideration of Alternative Options’ and `Wednesbury Unreasonableness’… which basically allowed them to duck most of the issues.

…Officers talked about the scope of the consultation on the cuts – without making reference to the fact that they had ripped up most of its results (see previous Salford Star article – click here and click here)

…Officers talked about the “cost benefit analysis” of cuts to the Transport Unit – without answering parents’ concerns about the safety of their sons and daughters, with evidence already of wheelchair users being dangerously transported in taxis. The only response to concerns was that “It did not stack up financially”.

When councillors on the scrutiny committee asked questions about cuts to Welfare Rights and Debt Advice, officers admitted that “There will be gaps” but “these issues were taken into account when the decision was made”. Er, so that was alright then…

The Scrutiny Committee, having heard all the arguments – including a mother of two disabled adults pleading “Do we have to wait for a tragedy before you wake up?” – then unanimously voted to reject the call in.

The Scrutiny Committee was made up of councillors John Warmisham, George Wilson, Charlie McIntyre, Val Burgoyne, John Ferguson (Labour Party), and Les Turner (Conservative Party).

“Given the information they were presented with today, both from service users and from staff and from councillors, it is unbelievable to me that they’ve come back with the decision to endorse these proposals” said Steve North

“It was absolutely clear was that there was no attempt to respond to the financial questions that were raised” he explained “We know that Salford’s reserves are over the minimum reserve limit. We know that there was a £6million contingency fund built into the original budget document. We believe there was an underspend in the health improvement service of between £250,000 and £300,000. Those questions were never answered and no response was given to those points.

“The Chair made the comment today that we were the best behaved public gallery that they’ve had at a Council meeting, and it’s true” he added “We talked beforehand and said that we weren’t going in there to disrupt the meeting or heckle people – we wanted to go in there and very professionally put across the points about the services, which we can because we work in them or use them, and we did that.

“We put our faith in the democratic process and we were patronised and then told unanimously that we needn’t have bothered” he fumed “And that will be the resounding echo from this meeting…

“When I tell people what has happened their response will be, understandably `What is the point of observing Salford City Council’s political process when you get to sit in a meeting room for two and a half hours with the pretence that you’re being listened to, to be patronised in the process of doing it, only to find out that, unanimously, none of what you said was taken on board’.”

Credit:- The Salford Star http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=2346


Addiotinal Reporting By MUNReporter

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