County councillors condemned from public gallery as extraordinary meeting fails to derail proposals to cut services.
CRIES of ‘Shame!’ showered upon Devon’s county councillors after a special meeting failed to halt the public service cuts juggernaut.
A packed public gallery looked on at County Hall in Exeter during the three-hour summit to discuss proposed cuts to care homes, day care centres, libraries and youth centres.
Five amendment motions were put forward by opposition councillors but all were defeated.
These included calls for consultation to be extended; that decisions be taken in public; and that services in various areas should continue or be given time so alternative arrangements could be made.
Wednesday’s extraordinary meeting had been called after Liberal Democrat councillors invoked council rules, because they say decisions were being taken ‘behind closed doors’.
Gunn resident Pat Hanlon told the Gazette that when they arrived around 20 people had been locked out of the chamber and told there was not enough room, but after ‘some considerable commotion’ and refusing to leave, they were allowed in and most found a seat.
Attending the meeting with a delegation from North Devon, county councillor for Fremington, Cllr Frank Biederman, said he was among those ‘disappointed’ at the decision.
“I firmly believe a lot of the evidence is flawed,” he said.
“The decision needs to based on sound evidence as it affects the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Among those who addressed the meeting was Amanda Walker whose father is at Charlton Lodge in Tiverton. She said the proposals to close residential homes were ‘financially unsound and inhumane’ and called on the council to withdraw them.
“You should also remember that you are dealing with peoples’ lives here,” she said.
“Elderly, vulnerable people, very few of whom are even capable of making their own representations in this matter. The terrible thing is that they assume there is no point in making a fuss, because politicians aren’t interested in people like them.”
Consultation on care homes, day centres and youth services are now closed, with a children’s centres consultation to end on June 6 and libraries on July 17.
Council Leader John Hart has said the council must save £27million from this year’s budget and is faced with cutting £49 million next year, which would have meant a nine per cent council tax rise this year and 18 per cent the next.
Cllr Hart said he wanted to thank the public and his colleagues for giving their advice, but added: “We have listened and watched. But we have to get on with this.
“If we extend the consultations then we will be delaying even more the opportunity to lay down a direction of travel.
“We can no longer salami slice and there are no services which will not have to be reviewed – we have got to get on with the changes and come back with the reports.”
The defeat of all motions by the Conservative majority prompted Barnstaple councillor Brian Greenslade to claim it was ‘an affront to democracy’.
“The outcome is deeply disappointing and a clear signal that democracy is dead at County Hall,” he said.
“I am grateful to the public who came and made their views known. The Tory leadership whipped their members into ignoring all representations and confirming that only Tory cabinet members will take decisions about day centres, residential homes and the Youth Service.”
But Barnstaple Conservative Cllr John Mathews said he had understood it was to be a meeting to hear views, with no proposal on the table.
“They were voting on amendments without knowing what the results of the consultation were going to be. When the proposals are put forward, that’s the time to do your voting,” he said.