The public Consultancy Meeting on the RCC Budget took place last night. Around fifty local residents attended and about 16 Councillors and staff were in attendance. Rutland spends around M£30 each year – a drop in the ocean in comparison to other Unitary Authorities, like Peterborough. RCC had invited Rob Pisani of Rutland Radio to take the microphone.
One often wonders at the lack of unbiased press coverage of local government affairs on Radio and in the local papers. To have a presenter, whose day job is primarily on Rutland Radio, effectively directing the proceedings; asking questions submitted by the public, which, apart from a couple of exceptions, had to be submitted in advance; leads one to suspect that the role of the local press is far too close to government to be entirely healthy.
A supplementary question about transparent public accountability in open, rather than closed, Council meetings on .106 planning decisions was glossed over by Rob Pisani, who moved on to the next question without asking Councillors to give an answer.
We, the public, were asked to vote on which two, of seven, areas of local government we would wish to impose financial cuts. The choice was a farce; this was merely a public relations initiative, notable only for its incompetence and woolly thinking.
For instance if one looked at some of the spending on culture over the last year one might choose to cut the initiative which sent some lucky Rutland residents to the Curve Theatre in Leicester. However choosing to cut the culture budget in its entirety was one of only seven options offered to us, the public. Should we choose to cut the culture budget our libraries will have reduced opening hours and fewer (not less as Roger Begy stated) staff. The public vote was not worth voting on and most thinking members of the audience declined to participate in this farce.
The financial presentation was poor. We were told that if we build more housing we will get a Central Government grant. That grant was given as around £600,000 gross. What was not taken into account was that more housing, provided it is filled given our poor public transport services, will require more education, healthcare and social services expenditure. So the net cost of building many more houses had not been properly calculated. We were being asked to make crude decisions based upon faulty figures.
Had we been given 320 projects on which money is to be spent; given more accurate financial data and been a Greek style democratic process we might have been able to vote with some perception. As it was I do hope that RCC does not think that, of the fifty residents attending, there is anything like ‘the people have spoken’ in the farce of a vote in which we were being asked to participate. For those unable to attend last night’s meeting, Roger Begy will be outside Tesco and the Co-op on Saturday morning and others will be in Uppingham. Please do bear in mind that your local elections are coming up in May and that this exercise is not really about anything more than a rough and ready attempt at early electioneering. Thoughtful disinterested people with something to offer, other than self-interest, are urged to stand in those elections. It is time we had a democratic coup; it is more than time to replace the veterans who have so ably messed up our County. This rump has sat too long.
When it was pointed out that we are spending just over M£30 this financial year, an election year for the Council, which reduced to just over M£28 for the following two financial years and increases to M£32 in 2015, another election year, Roger Begy, leader of the Council became quite heated in his condemnation of the questioner. However I was very impressed that he was able, through the red mist, to remember my name.