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Now is the winter of our discontent

Larry Neild says it's time for the blame game as the Government hands axe to councillors

Written by . Published on October 31st 2011.

Now is the winter of our discontent

THE modest annual stipend paid out to local councillors has, until the past year or so, being seen as a nice little earner.

You climb a ring or two up the neighbourhood ladder and act as a community champion, hopefully scoring successes for ward constituents.

Tony Mulhearn called on Anderson
and his Labour buddies to refuse
to do the Government’s dirty work
and decline  to set a budget

But as was seen from the Council Chamber of Horrors Show, broadcast live from Liverpool Town Hall at the end of last week, the cosy days of civic life are over. The municipal gloves are off.

The 47The 47As part of its pre-budget process, the city council organised a session to listen to the public. Leader Joe Anderson opened the proceedings, explaining the financial Armageddon faced by the city as a result of massive – and we are talking massive – cuts by the Coalition Government.

His  deputy, Paul Brant, could well have been a consultant financialologist, trying to break the news to a very sick patient that their malady is terminal but never quite able to spit out the words: it’s curtains.

Man-of-the-people Roger Phillips was commissioned to MC the debate with the citizens, but things got hairy at times, even by his phone-in standards.  Didn’t he almost have some irate person chucked out?

Sat in the seats where he once graced the chamber as an elected member, Tony Mulhearn called on Anderson and his Labour buddies to refuse to do the Government’s dirty work and decline to set a budget.

Sorry Tony, been there, done that, got the scars to show it.  If every council in the country stood shoulder to shoulder with Liverpool and did the same in protest at the cuts, then there may be a point.

Even Labour (via Neil Kinnock) turned savage on Liverpool in the 1980s, so you can imagine what a Tory Government - a Tory Government - would unleash on Liverpool to sort us out.

We’d have a Government Commissar running the show, perhaps gunboats in the Mersey (again), soldiers alerted to act as lollipop men (and women).

In many ways the Government has dealt a cruel card in this game of civic poker. Remove ring-fencing and spending constraints and invite councils to  make the choices: “Don’t blame us, it was your nasty little councillors wot closed the library, or the nursery, or the youth club".

As was seen from last week’s meeting: when hard times call, the decision makers will be in the firing line – ie the City Council.

Joe AndersonJoe AndersonJoe Anderson is, in my opinion, a good man with Mersey-enriched blood running through every vein, and the dilemma he faces causes him sleepless nights.  Earlier this year he was quite ill, but has insisted in doing his best to steer the Goodship Liverpool through stormy waters.

Compare that with home rule from a cold, uncaring, unfeeling Whitehall  robot. Well you get the drift.  In the real world, as much as Anderson and his frontline, preach the message the council’s purse strings are tied, there will be anger at what we will all face in the coming year or two, or three even.

Yet when in the coming weeks the axe is wielded there will be tears and anger, and protests, and more protests.

Alongside Labour’s top team sat Steve Radford, leader of the small Liberal group. The Lib Dems and the Greens have decided not to participate in the budget fixing process.

Their leader Paula Keaveney said:  “Our group unaminously decided we should not take part in this process  because there has to be an opposition to put forward counter proposals. You wouldn’t expect Ed Milliband or Ed Balls to sit alongside David  Cameron and George Osborne as they deliberate on their  budget.”

Most of the decisions will be taken behind closed doors before they are fed to the public. That leads some to suggest such consultation exercises like last Thursdays are, in reality, a PR stunt, a sham even.  Wouldn’t a local referendum be better so people can state their own choices to give a clearer steer to the decision makers?

Yes, being a councillor in 2011 is a thankless task, and sleepless nights are now par for the course. 

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