Long list of last-minute changes as Medway Council passes its 2013-14 budget
by Dan Bloom
A flurry of apparent perks was revealed hours before Medway
Council passed its budget last night - paid for by a controversial
1.99% council tax increase.
But there were also two major last-minute cuts and angry scenes
where Labour claimed the budget was illegal - because the numbers
didn't add up.
£400,000 was shaved off Early Intervention Grant services, which
include Sure Start Centres, and £303,000 will need to be saved in
overheads in public health, which the council takes over from the
NHS in April.
Meanwhile £6.5 million in perks had to come from various
reserves - the vast majority for a pot to boost Rochester
Some of the positive measures will be popular with residents,
but others are simply filling holes created by other cuts.
chief Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con) - pictured right - blamed the
government for a 3.65% cut, saying: "It's quite an extraordinary
level of reduction and it's quite extraordinary that we managed to
set a budget at all."
But Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab) said some cuts locally had
proved pointless - as by removing £1.25m in road maintenance, more
than £200,000 had to be put aside for insurance claims from
The full list of last-minute additions is:
- £5 million for a South Medway Development Fund
to help redevelop Rochester Airport.
- £350,000 for children's social care following
a damning Ofsted report which rated the council as inadequate. The
cash will be spent over two years on better diagnosing problems,
more social workers and a review of the safeguarding board.
- £250,000 extra for Disabled Facilities Grants,
which help people fund vital adaptations to their homes. Cllr
Jarrett admitted: "Although it's a significant sum [already] it's
almost certainly not enough."
- £300,000 to fund a Strood Hub after
supermarket giant Tesco pulled out of a community agreement (more
on this in next week's Medway Messenger).
- £1 million extra for children with special
- £245,000 for Medway's "sporting legacy" to
- £480,000 extra for roads and pavements.
- £300,000 to give all staff a £100 bonus this
Christmas, funded by spending less than expected on severance
- £30,000 for an open-top tourist bus voiced by
- £50,000 for a new local music festival.
- £20,000 for Armed Forces Day.
- £75,000 to help Medway Youth Trust after the
council handed it £300,000-a-year cuts which it warns will have a
dire effect on teenagers (more on this in today's Medway
- £155,000 on sport and health, including two
more Medway Miles for cycling (£37,000) and swimming
Other unusual funds announced shortly before Thursday include
£120,000 to tackle domestic violence and another £75,000 to fight a
Thames estuary airport, after £50,000 was agreed last year.
Labour members refused to vote on the budget because the figures
given for the last-minute measures were wrong.
totals on paper simply didn't add up and had to be corrected
during the meeting, leading to embarrassing scenes where the
council's chief executive and legal officer were drawn into an
argument about whether it would be legal to pass the budget.
Cllr Jarrett's speech was littered with angry references to his
"dear friend" Eric Pickles, the local government secretary who has
imposed steep cuts on councils. Medway is facing a much bigger
black hole of 8.6% (£9m) next year.
But the opposition and anti-cuts protesters, who campaigned
outside the meeting, said he could not escape blame.
Labour group leader Cllr Vince Maple said: "There continues to
be millions spent on consultants while thousands are sent an
unaffordable council tax bill."
Cllr Andy Stamp (Ind) told the finance chief: "If you genuinely
don't approve of what your government is doing, perhaps it's time
you were a bit more vocal about publicly opposing it."
Chas Berry, 20, from Medway Against the Cuts, said: "It's been
created by the banks like Northern Rock. If the bankers have caused
this the bankers should pay."
More on this story in Monday's Medway
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