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Long list of last-minute changes as Medway Council passes its 2013-14 budget

Medway Council logo
Medway Council logo

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 Airport.

Some of the positive measures will be popular with residents, but others are simply filling holes created by other cuts.

The home of Cllr Alan Jarrett was raised by police last Thursday
The home of Cllr Alan Jarrett was raised by police last Thursday

Finance 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 potholes.

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 needs.
  • £245,000 for Medway's "sporting legacy" to tackle obesity.
  • £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 pay.
  • £30,000 for an open-top tourist bus voiced by Brian Blessed.
  • £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 Messenger).
  • £155,000 on sport and health, including two more Medway Miles for cycling (£37,000) and swimming (£35,000).

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.

Cllr Vince Maple
Cllr Vince Maple

The 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 Messenger.

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