Last night’s Full Council meeting (19/01/10) has been described as one of the “most embarrassing spectacles of local Conservative incompetence we have seen in a long time.”
1. The Conservative party proposed a motion to be debated on the One Council programme, claiming that the project had ‘lost’ the Council £2million. Conservative Cllr Nick Kilby said: “It is money we will never get back.”
Liberal Democrat member Dave Ryder Mills who attended a mammoth 7 hour long Scrutiny meeting organised and chaired by the Conservative party just two months ago, which investigated in detail the council’s modernisation programme, reminded opposition members of their own conclusion:
“We are concerned that savings which were promised are not being realised within the timeline frame first promised.”
Minutes from Scrutiny meeting, 17th November 2009
At the Conservative’s request, the November meeting demanded an entire afternoon and evening of seven senior council officer’s paid time, and £116 worth of sandwiches and refreshments for attendees.
Cllr Ryder Mills explained that Kingston Tories seemed to have willingly forgotten the meeting’s findings, that “no money had been lost in the programme, only one tranche of expected savings worth £2million had been temporarily delayed.”
Cllr Ian Reid Executive Member for One Council reminded the sponsors of the motion that the programme “was improving local services for residents and is on target for making £8.5million worth of savings”.
The Conservative party’s argument broke down and even descended into farce, when front bench member Cllr Dennis Doe gave a four minute speech consisting entirely of repeating a A. A. Milne poem about Winnie the Pooh.
The motion failed to receive support from sitting councillors: 24 votes against to 20 in favour.
2. During the questions and answers session of the Full Council meeting, Leader of the Conservative Group Cllr Howard Jones demanded that Kingston’s Executive Member for Transport sign a petition on the Number 10 Downing Street website on the issue of the London Freedom Pass.
However, the e-petition in question is currently undergoing an internal investigation by London Councils as its author, a Tory party researcher, broke the organisation’s rules and was accused of “mislead[ing] the public”. The organisation contacted Cllr Steed and recommended that he did not sign the petition.
Cllr Steed explained at the meeting: “I will not be signing the petition in question. This is not because my colleagues and I disagree with its sentiment. As a member of London Council’s Transport and Environment Committee I was immensely proud to sign the 5 year extension of our Freedom Pass deal on behalf of the Borough.
“We have campaigned against the proposed cuts to funding from the Labour Government, as well as threats the Conservative Mayor of London posed to the scheme when he increased the cost of subsidy to London boroughs by £1million.”
3. The Leader of the Council, then posed the following question to Conservative Howard Jones:
“In October of last year, the opposition Group Leader told the local press that David Cameron gave a “nod nod, wink wink” to improving Kingston’s local government settlement grant if his party came to Government.
“Given Mr Cameron’s recent admission that he has ‘messed up’ over previous tax pledges, and once solid-sounding promises of public sector investment and tax cuts have been ditched from the Tory manifesto, what confidence does Cllr Jones now have in his party leader’s ‘nod nod, wink wink’?”
Despite receiving the full text in advance, Cllr Jones seemed baffled by the question and claimed he had never made that statement. He said “I have never spoken to Mr Cameron about that issue.”
The Council Leader then held up the quote published in the Surrey Comet which states:
The meeting with Conservative Party leader David Cameron comes as local Tory leader Councillor Howard Jones said he hoped any new Conservative government would improve Kingston’s local government grant…
Coun Jones said: "…there is a sort of nod nod, wink wink that there will be improvements, and if there were not I think we would all be rebelling."
Surrey Comet, 15th October 2009
4. The Council Leader then attempted to move the meeting on from this petty political dispute, to the important news that a proposal made by Kingston under the Sustainable Communities Act (SCA) has progressed through the first stages of approval by the Local Government Association.
Kingston had proposed that the local authority should be allowed to retain a proportion of its locally levied business rates, as £49million is being removed from the borough in just this financial year. The idea has been approved by the LGA ‘selector panel’ and will be discussed further with Government.
The Council Leader said “this is important news and we could see a radical shake up of local government finance”, but was muffled by boos and hisses from the Tory administration, as front bench members loudly discussing Cllr Jones’ comments to the Surrey Comet, shouting out “for God’s sake!”
Commenting after the meeting, the leader of the Liberal Democrat Group said: “The hallmark of Kingston Conservatives time so far as opposition party on this Council has been their complete failure to offer a single alternative budget or detailed policy position, they have preferred to sit back, eat free sandwiches and make generalised statements. Last night it seems they have a new tactic up their sleeve: lies, incompetence and poetry readings.”