Councillors met in Shirehall yesterday for business that lasted more than three hours. There were good moments in this meeting but also the ugliest moment I have witnessed in my time as a councillor, or before. It was political, it was nasty and it was totally unnecessary.
I begin with the ugly. Conservative councillor for Bagley, Alexander Phillips led a motion on antisemitism. He called for the council to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance guidelines on antisemitism. No problem. There was never an issue about every member voting for this.
But the timing of the motion always looked suspicious. Councillor Phillips soon revealed that his primary interest was an attack on the Labour Party. He picked up on the current national row, condemned Corbyn and politicised a non-political issue. This was the ugliest moment I have experienced in the council chamber. It was the ugliest moment I have experienced in many decades in and around the public sector. It was as unnecessary as it was unacceptable.
Alan Moseley, leader of the Labour group, reacted with understandable fury. To summarise the main points, he said that if the Tories wanted to make an issue like antisemitism political, he would make future council issues just as political. Alan spoke well and with passion but the last thing we need is greater politicisation of the council.
Councillor Alexander Phillips carries the blame for this. He could have just commended the motion on antisemitism to the council. His approach was as unnecessary as it was nasty. Everyone would have voted yes. Indeed, everyone in the chamber supported the motion when it was put to the vote.
The moment was spoilt by Tory nastiness. That was ugly.
Turning to the bad. Shropshire Council is projected to overspend by £6.9 million this year. That means a lot of fast action cost cutting to bring this down to manageable levels. Some of the excess expenditure is from the children’s services – if there is a demand in that area we cannot refuse it. But there is also budget turbulence caused by the refusal of the leaders of Shropshire Council to invest in staff and infrastructure after it was created in 2009. We are now playing catch up. But this not a game. Every penny it spends on becoming a modern council is money that could be used to support the communities of Shropshire.
At last we turn to the good!
Shropshire Council has been withdrawing its support for local communities as budgets shrink. We don’t agree with its priorities but above all we are concerned that cuts are occurring almost randomly rather than as part of a carefully considered strategy. Tracey Huffer put forward a motion with me seconding and Viv and Richard signing. We wanted a strategy for change, not ad hoc cuts. Council leader Peter Nutting put forward an amendment, which was better in some respects but didn’t look likely to achieve what we wanted to achieve. But after debate in the chamber, passing of notes and some confusing debate over the wording, the council unanimously passed an amendment to the amendment to the motion. Then it made the amendment the substantive motion and we passed that unanimously too. Procedures!
What we have gained is a working group to look at how Shropshire Council supports communities around the county. It will be led by Councillor Cecilia Motley who represents Corvedale and chairs the Communities Overview Committee. We had got a good deal. It is a testimony of how Shropshire Council works when it is at its best.
It is a shame that the good in this meeting was spoilt by the bad and the ugly.
I will be restricting comments on this blog to Shropshire Council and yesterday’s events. It is not a place to discuss wider issues.