Monday, 20 December 2010
A (very) small victory
I am pleased to report that even though the powers that be sought to gag Mr Reasonable, common sense prevailed at tonight's Budget & Performance Scrutiny Committee. It didn't look promising when all of the Conservative councillors stated that they were being whipped to go along with the cabinet recommendations on the budget, something which Cllr Schneiderman said set a worrying precedent in a scrutiny committee. When we got to public questions on the agenda, Cllr Schneiderman was the first to intervene to make it clear that there were public questions but that they had been disallowed. The council officials consulted the constitution and the Chairman looked perplexed. All credit to Cllr Rayner, who I have always found to be a fair and reasonable chap, who made it clear that he would vote for allowing me to speak if it could be done. Eventually it was agreed that they could suspend public participation rules to allow me to speak if members voted for it. Much gnashing of teeth from the cabinet members who were sitting behind me saying it shouldn't be allowed. Credit where credit is due, all the committee members (except Cllr Seal who was late) voted to allow me to speak. My questions were not particularly taxing and frankly I don't know why they kicked up such a fuss in the first place. The answers didn't really enlighten anything although the issue of reviewing the top contracts is something that got picked up for further investigation.The meeting lasted nearly three hours, with plenty of questions asked - certainly better that the 30 minutes the cabinet spent (not) discussing the proposals. Cllr Thomas made one very telling comment when asked about the proposed cut in the Museum grant. It was agreed that actually it is run by volunteers and that the costs amounted in large part to the notional rent charged by Barnet Council. Cllr Thomas made the point that Museums were a "nice to have" and that it didn't necessarily need a building to house the exhibits, they could be spread around the borough. I think many of the committee were unconvinced that the proposed savings will be fully realised especially as this years budget is overspent.