Practically the only BBC news programme that did not send a journalist to the States to cover the presidential election must have been Look North. Many viewers must have been left dazed and shocked that Harry Gration was not seen reporting live outside some suburban polling station in Miami. Surely there was a Yorkshire tourist nearby who could have been roped in to pass judgement? And isn’t there a 14th cousin of Mitt Romney living in Barnsley? We should be told – we usually are. More
Gloom. There were no fireworks at the meeting of Scarborough Borough Council which met on November 5th. No ‘ooh aah’ moments, no flashes, no bangs no whizzes – just the sombre routine of council business. The only item that might attract outside interest was the decision to remove Jimmy Savile’s name from the roll of honour, his memory to be erased ‘immediately.’ The municipal rubber has never been used before.
More significant perhaps was a subdued croak of pain from the Leader, who reported on preparations for next year’s budget. Under the coalition government’s ‘localism’ agenda, it seems local authorities are to be salami sliced until they make wafers look like wholesome meals, a metaphor for the Secretary of State Eric Pickles trying (entirely disingenuously) to feed the five thousand from a bucket of left-overs. Mr Pickles hates councils, ever since he helped run Bradford into the ground. Every year he has pledged to perform a similar trick on every council in the land. Scarborough Borough Council has to cut another £3.2million this year, and there’ll be more concealed cuts in the packaging of government cuts to come.
Lord Heseltine has recognised the failing state of small district councils in his report to No 10 on rejuvenating the UK economy, and has suggested that where we have two tier council systems, we should look to create one tier. When I was a councillor in the 1980s’ Heseltine was no friend of local government. Yet now he has taken to quoting Joseph Chamberlain – a ‘municipal socialist’ if ever there was one – and if any of his proposals come to fruition it may be over Eric Pickles’ dead body, a monumental feat in other words. The key message from Heseltine is that to achieve anything we must have something akin to critical mass. But now, ironically, we may not even have sufficient critical mass to employ a sustainability officer. The Leader told us he was engaged in talks about unitary status.
Our very own David Billing moved a motion calling for more effort to encourage take-up of housing benefits, etc. It seems that 40 per cent of pensioners, for example, may not be claiming what they are due. With a higher than average number of pensioners in the Borough, we need to do more. It was not clear that the ruling group felt we could do anymore – after all, under the government’s new localism regime, if you do do more you must expect to be penalised for it. But on a recorded vote, David’s motion went through. Labour, in other words is driving forward the equality agenda. I asked questions about the living wage and part-time workers. From the answer I received, it would appear that about a quarter of the council’s workforce earns less than the living wage (currently £7.20 per hour) and/or work less than 24 hours a week, which in the latter case means that from next year they would lose all their Working Tax Credit which is being withdrawn for anyone on less than 24 hours.
The meeting was over in an hour and three quarters, but the pain is set to last for years.