Thursday, November 29, 2007

Turmoil at Merton Council meeting

The Merton Council meeting was very lively last night with the most contentious issues left to the end.

One of the issues related to Assistant Cabinet members, an issue that’s been on-going for a number of months and was finally resolved last night despite the opposition of the Labour group. Our opposition to Assistant Cabinet members is that we see no need for their introduction and that they're a waste of money, we lost on the matter but were joined by Conservative councillor Angela Caldara. At a recent meeting of the Standards Committee, Cllr Anglea Caldara had also claimed "that Conservative councillors had been pressurised into accepting Assistant Cabinet members along with being railroaded and bullied into accepting them"; Cllr Peter McCabe repeated these remarks at the meeting last night and clearly some dissension exists in Tory ranks.

The allowance issue and the proposal to increase cabinet allowances along with officer holders(and I was one of them as a panel chair) by 25% was next on the agenda and we reached the agenda item at 10-13 leaving just two minutes to debate the issue before the guillotine at 10-15. Labour Councillors called a procedural motion to adjourn the Council meeting as we believed this motion needed more time to be discussed and that we should not be starting a debate at this time given the nature of the proposals. This procedural motion was defeated. After this motion, various points of order were raised and we were informed by the Head of legal that it could only be voted on or referred back to the committee that made the recommendation, a motion was then moved "to refer back to General Purposes committee", this was passed by 31 votes to 28. In voting for the motion we where again joined by Tory councillor Angela Caldara and more surprisingly Cabinet member for Schools Oonagh Moulton(she tried to correct her vote but it was too late) the Merton Park Independents also voted for the reference back.

No doubt the issue will be back - but given the current position of council finances with cuts of over £10 million proposed the increase is unacceptable. Labour councillors are opposed to any increase above inflation. The matter will be debated again at the next General Purposes Committee before its likely re-appearance at the next Council meeting in February. If the Tories had any sense they'd drop the proposed rises and given the current balance of council it would probably be a wise move, it is unacceptable for the allowance increases of 25% for Tory cabinet members and other office holders at a time when the council faces serious budget issues.

Earlier in the meeting, public users of All Saints Centre asked questions about its future and handed in a petition against possible closure plans. The future of the centre does not look good and it’s likely that it will close or the service re-provided, we’ll know more about its future following the conclusion of a service review in December by the Tory administration on 17th December.

I also asked a question about the implementation of the new IT system in Housing Benefits and Council Tax. Since the introduction of the new system, Council Tax collection has dropped by 2% and processing time for Housing Benefits has increased. In order to clear the backlog, the Council spent over £100,000 in staff overtime and used Hull City Council to help clear the backlog. Service levels are still not back to the level they were previously and the new system has now been in place for over a year.


Blogger Rockinpaddy said...

Hi, I left a message about CIL's on your blog 2 days ago and when I got the confirmation it read that my tag was "sit back & enjoy the ride" which sounds very dodgey indeed, I'm not sure how it got there except as part of my description of my blog, I explain that I don't know where the blog will take us but lets sit context it now makes sense. My apologise if you thought it was a dodgey comment, my tag is of course rockinpaddy! I was a little bit embarrassed but hope you can see the funny side of it now I've explained. My comments were totally serious and distracted by blogger making up my tag!


John Kelly (aka rockinpaddy)

1:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think Cllr Caldera will be disciplined/have the Tory whip taken from her because of her actions? and if she did - what would you think of that?

12:54 pm  
Blogger Martin Whelton said...

That is a matter for the Conservative Group to consider. She expressed her concerns on the matter and how it's been handled by the Conservative Group.

Her decision not to vote with the Conservative group was a brave decision given the pressure placed upon her by the Conservative group at the meeting. Given the delicate balance of the Council, it's probably not the wisest thing to do in the Council to remove the whip from Angela Caldara.

3:45 pm  

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