As a backbench Councillor I have to take my small victories where I can. Usually this involves being the one of few dissenting voices questioning the decisions of the Labour/Tory/Lib-Dem Alliance that controls most of what goes on. At the last Council Meeting I was prepared to vote against yet another increase in Council Tax, which I did, and also to question the wisdom of signing up to a Local Area Agreement “Refresh”.
The Refresh set out Hartlepool Council’s commitment to various performance targets, including; maintaining the overall employment rate in Hartlepool at 5.6% points BELOW the North East average, maintaining the current level of 29% of children in Hartlepool living in poverty, so keeping Hartlepool 4.8% ABOVE the North East average and committing to maintain the Hartlepool baseline figure of 20.9% for working age people out of work and claiming benefits, which is 4.5% points ABOVE than the rest of the North East.
Basically Hartlepool Council will be concentrating their efforts for the next few years to maintain Hartlepool's position as having fewer people in work, more people on benefits and more children in poverty than the rest of the North East!
How can anyone say Hartlepool Council lacks ambition when it signs up to targets like that!
However, before I could raise my concerns Councillor Brash jumped to his feet to also decry the child poverty target. I think he must have been treading my blog again and wanted to get in first! He didn’t mention unemployment or numbers on benefits but he was worried about the children. He proposed a more ambitious target be set that would at least commit the council to narrowing the gap between Hartlepool and the rest of the North East. After he sat down I stood up and seconded his proposal! I agreed with him and said it was a good idea.
At this point the Council Meeting went into the Twilight Zone.
I am quite used to Councillor Brash going a funny purple colour with rage and being reduce to almost incoherence (I wish!) with anger at things I say in Hartlepool Council Chamber but this was the first time I’d ever had this effect on him by AGREEING with him. He was very upset that I’d dared to do so!
This is the advantage of not having a party whip telling me who I can and cannot agree with. If I think it’s a good idea then I’ll support it, if I think it’s a bad idea then I’ll say so and vote against it. Scary stuff for any Party Politician who usually can be whipped into putting party first, personal ambition second and ideology (if they have any) a distant third.
Councillor Brash was saved by the Mayor! Stuart leapt to his feet and announced it didn’t matter because we were only playing the game and submitting meaningless numbers to Whitehall that were just necessary for a box ticking exercise! This allowed Councillor Brash to withdraw his proposal, removing any requirement too agree with me, and accepting the understanding that the decision was irrelevant anyway and didn’t count for anything in the real world outside the fantasy land of politicians and the ivory towers they inhabit.
So there you have it. I can get the Labour group upset if I oppose what they say and even more upset if I agree with them. Of course the Mayor has now confirmed that any decision made by the Council doesn’t really affect what goes on in real life. It’s all just a box ticking exercise. It was nice to hear the Mayor finally admit that!
Unfortunately the increase in Council Tax does affect people in real life and the relentless rises are causing severe hardship to many people. I did also wonder if the "meaningless box ticking" also referred to the 4 Star Status the Council keeps getting awarded and which Drummond tells everyone “proves” what a great job Hartlepool Council are doing!