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County Council votes through £77m cuts package without debate, after chaotic meeting suspended

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Geoff Driver
Geoff Driver
Author: 
John Freeman

Yesterday's Lancashire County Council Cabinet meeting saw the Geoff Driver, Conservative Leader of the Council, fully supported by his Cabinet suspend proceedings, walk out and then return, moving to vote through £77 million of cuts without any further debate.

The Lancashire Telegraph reports the cuts package, some proposals open to further consultation, involves reducing services for vulnerable adults and young people including cutting the number of care workers attending many older and disabled people and ending the current Lancashire Breaktime Service of school holiday daycare for disabled children.

The Conservative walkout ftook place during full debate about the £77m package of budget reductions, apparently the result of an attempt by opposition groups to present two petitions of over 3000 signitures opposing a proposal to introduce on street parking to towns across Lancashire, as part of income generation for the budget. 

Liberal Democrat group leader, David Whipp, stood to present a 2,500-signature over the parking plans, although Geoff Driver later denied this version of events.

The Lancaster Guardian and other papers report that the proposals to extend on-street pay and display charges to almost a dozen towns in Lancashire had sparked a heated stand-off at the County Hall cabinet meeting. Currently, roadside parking fees apply only in Preston and Lancaster, but as part of a bid to raise almost £200,000 in revenue, Lancashire County Council is to consult on widening the charges to areas including Chorley, Lytham and Colne.

As the £77m in cuts to be made by 2022 was voted through, the council's Webcam System, which is supposed to enable the public to view council meetings making them open and transparent to the public, was also shut down and all council live recording stopped.

When proceedings resumed, former county councillor Lord Tony Greaves rose to call County Cllr Driver “a dictator, not fit to hold office."

“This was an affront to democracy and a slap in the face of Lancashire people," commented Coun Azhar Ali, Leader of Lancashire Labour Group. "Local people expect their councillors to be open and honest in their actions. Especially when it comes to these massive cuts in their services, running away from public debate will not help anyone.”

“Every Lancashire Conservative Councillor is fully responsible for the actions of its Cabinet today, along with the government who we have raised concerns with regarding bullying and intimidation be this Conservative Administration/ Now we have shutting down democracy.

"All this chaos, to cover up its farcical financial management.”

"We were hoping to discuss the impact their cuts in these vital service would have on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities," added Coun John Fillis, Deputy Leader of Lancashire Labour Group. "As well as the increase in service cost covering 'car parking' to 'elderly day care' of up to 15%.

"This is on top of the 6% council tax increase with more increases in council tax to come.”

“Instead, we have this chaotic Conservative Administration shutting down its own meeting to prevent constructive opposition and councillors supporting the people they represent. While blocking the Webcast to prevent the public seeing what they were doing.” 

“It would appear that all the £77 million proposed cuts will be going ahead on top of the £600 million cuts imposed by government. The Conservatives have now stepped outside of normal democratic practices. So it is uncertain how they will treat the public consultation, with today’s antics it can only be with contempt.”

Councillor Whipp decried the parking charge proposal as "a minor financial cut which will have a devastating impact on towns in Lancashire." but speaking to the local press, Geoff Driver condemned the Lib Dem group leader's actions actions.

"At no time did County Councillor Whipp attempt to present a petition to me or Cabinet and I was not even aware he had one until much later," he claimed. "All he was doing is what he has done on many occasions before, to disrupt the meeting and prevent Cabinet going about its legitimate business on behalf of the people of Lancashire. He is a disgrace.

"There was no proposal to introduce charging for kerbside parking in Colne or anywhere else - the proposal was to consult on the possibility of doing so."

Speaking on the cuts package in general he atgued "the package is prudent and realistic financial management aimed at delivering services more efficiently and effectively."

• Lancashire County Council is online at www.lancashire.gov.uk

 

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