Sunday, 7 February 2010


So if Tory controlled Northamptonshire County Council use sleight of hand to sell their annual budget plans to the public, how do their Liberal Democrat neighbours across the road at Northampton Borough Council fare when it comes to openness and transparency?

I decided last week to attend one of their "Public Consultations" to judge for myself whether the information available to the public was any clearer this side of the road from County Hall? The answer? A big no I am afraid, in fact its worse than that, let me explain what occurred.

Those bothering to attend (very few) were submitted to a hour and 30 minute party political powerpoint presentation where Brian Hoare the Council leader, with David Perkins in the background share with us all their views on how wonderful a council they now are and lecture us on Local Government finance, including the fiscal pitfalls of an inequitable regressive Local Government tax systems not centred on ability to pay (The Lib Dem's Local income Tax) An explanation of NBC's 10p a week increase against NCC's 10p a day without telling us that NCC pay for Schools and Social Services and and etc) and at every opportunity a rally against the awful government and the way they treat Northampton on concessionary fares and on being been sold short on population figures.

All good political knockabout material, and I actually agree with them on the last one, but none of this, was what we were actually there for!

The meeting was advertised as a consultation on the Council's 09/10 budget, so where was it?

No leaflets, no handouts, no brochures (glossy or recycled) telling us what their plans were, or asking us to make choices as to what we might like to see saved or what we could do without, just a continued ramble through the "Bigger picture" as Cll Hoare puts it, as he turned an ever pinker shade of red as he blustered on and on and on, with Cllr David Perkins as his prompt and foil, they were turning into the Pinky and Perky show right before our very eyes.

It was 1 hour and 15 minutes into the show that I finally gave in and could resist no longer the urge to intervene, and ask when we were going to get to next years budget?

And at last we got there, one slide that at least acted as a signpost to what might lay ahead (although where to is anybodies guess)

We were shown a slide with eight lines on it, 3 under a heading of "What you might like" and 3 under a heading of "What you might not like" You will be pleased to discover that we might like:

80% of the reduced budget coming in efficiency" savings
Protection of all Community Grants, and
A freeze on "day to day" car parking charges

but we might not like:

A 2.4% Council Tax increase
Changes to the operation of Community Centre (15 Caretaker redundancies) and
Increased charges for leisure centres and other activities.

We of course didn't like any of it and asked for more detail.

It felt like sitting in a restaurant in rural Estonia wondering what each of the dishes on the menu really might be? and whether or not the waiters translation could be trusted?.

A few hardy souls tried to question our" liking" the 80% of the reduced budget coming from efficiency savings, As the budget reductions added up to £4m what exactly were these £3.2m worth of efficiency savings?

Perky assured us that it was all innocent stuff like "cheaper Electric and Gas" and "restructuring efficiencies" members of the Trade Unions present asked how many redundancy's were included in the "efficiency savings"?

Pinky and Perky couldn't answer.

A member of the public asked what services would be reduced as a result of the savings?

Pinky and Perky couldn't answer.

I asked if the savings were like those not announced last year when they scrapped the Councils Pest Control Service without telling us?

Pinky and Perky couldn't answer.

There most amusing response, which I wrote down word for word came from the leader himself when he told the audience that:

"We didn't want to confuse the public with figures"

How we all laughed, but the joke is really on us, whats the point of a consultation if we have nothing to be consulted on?

If they were serious they would be asking us for instance if the NBC proportion of the council tax should rise by 10p a week or 12p a week or 14p a week? and give us the chance to say what services we would like to save if we elected to spend more.

Or heaven forbid if they don't want to go that far, how about asking us our views on the real cuts they are making, but not telling us about?

Our local councils need to get real over their need to consult, Both Councils are in a difficult position, money is tight and will get tighter and only by being open with us as to what the options are open to us will they ever have a chance of bringing us on board.

This however was a further attempt at smoke and mirror politics and hidden agendas and it does little to alleviate the publics understandable mistrust.


  1. The Liberal Democrats Local Income tax also has an element of property tax, which is carefully hidden in the second of their two documents.
    Any rise in council tax is unacceptable this year.
    We too have attended numerous 'consultation' meetings. The councillors do feel that they should be seen to be consulting the electorate, Just an exercise, very little intention of taking any notice of your wants.

  2. Thanks for your views Christine, some rise in inevitable given the gap between the national settlement and RPI but I just want our politicians to be more truthful.




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