Last night's Council Assembly setting the budget for the coming financial year resulted in an inflation-busting 3.9% increase in council tax for Southwark residents. The Tories and Liberals both voted for the rise, which breaks the Tories pre-election promise to keep any increase in council tax below inflation. The Tory Leader and gimmick-master in chief, Kim Humphreys, justified his broken promise on the basis that 3.9% was the current rate of inflation for something somewhere! The rate which is used by the Bank of England when considering interest rates and even Southwark Council itself when setting wage increases is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which is currently running at 2.7%. But who needs to worry about details like that when you are in power?!
In line with our election pledge last year the Labour Group proposed a budget amendment which would have resulted in an increase of....2.7%. We were also able to pledge free swimming for under-16s in Southwark; funding for 50 new Police Community Support Officers; an extra £150,000 for our community nurseries and an extra £100,000 for youth services. All worthwhile programmes we believe, but rejected by the Tory/LibDem coalition.
Council Assemblies are truly becoming lessons in arrogance by the chaotic coalition of Tories and LibDems. On at least 2 occasions last night they seemed to get bored and irritated that Labour wanted to debate important issues facing the borough and moved procedural motions to bring all debate to an end. Perhaps the most amazing and self-defeating move by Cllrs Humphreys and Stanton came as we moved to appoint a Chair and Vice-Chair of the newly established Audit Committee. This Committee will have an important scrutiny-type function, and the Labour Group thought that it would be sensible for it to be chaired by an opposition councillor. This view was rejected by the Tories and LibDems who appointed Cllr James Gurling to the post.
However, in a move which can only be described as an arrogant stunt, Cllr Humphreys proceeded to nominate his colleague Cllr Lewis Robinson as Vice Chair. The ever obedient Cllr Stanton seconded the nomination. Both had failed to consult the hapless Cllr Robinson who, having been elected, felt obliged to withdraw from the post in order to allow Labour's Richard Livingstone to be elected.
The behaviour of Cllrs Humphreys and Stanton led one of my colleagues to describe them as acting like "arrogant public schoolboys". As a Comprehensive schoolboy myself I cannot comment - but for the time being their near silent backbenchers let them get away with it.
Finally it is worth noting that as part of our budget proposals we sought to cut councillors special responsibility allowances by 10%. Unsurprisingly this was rejected - but even if the cut had taken effect Cllr Stanton would have still been receiving nearly £3,000 more than the Labour Leader of Lambeth Council. As it is, he retains a healthy £8,000 cushion over our neighbouring borough's leader. I wonder what his Lambeth LibDem colleagues think about that?!