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'Get your chequebook out Prime Minister' - Gloucestershire councillors seek £15m flood repair windfall as budget is set

By The Citizen  |  Posted: February 26, 2014

Shire Hall

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IF money really is no object, get your chequebook out Mr Cameron.

That was the message delivered to the Prime Minister at Shire Hall yesterday as councillors called on the Government to give £15million to Gloucestershire to fix damage done by flooding in recent weeks.

The announcement of the bid for flooding cash headlined a meeting of Gloucestershire County Council as the authority hammered out its budget for the next financial year.

Leader of the council, Mark Hawthorne, said the Government needs to dip into its pockets to help Gloucestershire’s recovery.

“We need to get Gloucestershire’s infrastructure back on its feet and thanks to the Government’s support the money is available to do so,” he said.

Sorting out the county’s roads after their latest hammering from the elements would be the main purpose of securing the cash.

Mr Hawthorne added: “This is the biggest rescue package for Gloucestershire roads that we’ve pursued since 2007. We’ve spent a considerable amount of money since 2007 protecting Gloucestershire homes and businesses from flooding, which has helped a great deal, but there has still been very considerable damage to our roads.

“David Cameron has seen some of that damage for himself and I know, from speaking to him, that he is championing the needs of flood hit communities like Gloucestershire.”

While the request for funding from the Government was the high point of a five-and-a-half hour meeting, it was what the county will spend £428million on in 2014/15 that dominated proceedings. The authority agreed its next budget with 25 votes in favour, one against and 24 abstentions.

Both the Labour group and the Liberal Democrats managed to get something from the meeting with each party getting a number of their own amendments agreed for various schemes.

Labour secured a commitment for the council to pay all its directly employed staff a Living Wage which is equivalent to £7.65 an hour.

They also secured funding to give apprentices and children leaving care free bus travel. Cash for a Community Empowerment Chest which will award grants of up to £5,000 to community groups with £100,000 up for grabs in total, was also gained.

The Liberal Democrats secured a commitment to cut the cost of parking permits from £80 to £50, a move which will cost the council £132,000 every year. They also pushed through a commitment to combat self harm in Gloucestershire, worth £450,000.

However, both parties opted to abstain in the final vote.

The final budget figure of £428million is close to £3million lower than this year’s. Introducing the final budget, which will see council tax frozen for the fourth year in a row, Mr Hawthorne said: “This budget continues to support the local economy. With the A417 we are putting our money where our mouth is. On capital investment, £48.6million on roads, schools and other services, all without borrowing a single penny.”

The county council has seen its handout from the Government shrink again this year and it is expecting more cut backs in the future.

In 2014/15 that will mean some money being cut from the county’s adult care budget, £3.3million in total, with an overall figure of £148million agreed. Opposition councillors raised concerns about the cut pointing to increasing demand for services like caring for the elderly.

Lesley Williams, leader of the Labour group, said: “We question the wisdom of cutting £3.3million from this area and we will continue to talk to staff on the front line to ensure the quality of care our old people receive is not diminished by these cuts.”

The Tories pointed out that while the adult budget cut is regrettable, spending levels will still be equal to what they were in 2010.

Just over £240million of the council’s total budget in 2014/15 will be spent on helping vulnerable people.

Councillor Andrew Gravells, cabinet member for older people, said the cuts to the adult care budget will not have any impact on “frontline services”.

“We will never turn away people that need our help,” he said.

“Nobody in Gloucestershire needs to apologise for getting old.”

Colin Hay, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said his group agreed with the “vast majority of the budget” but couldn’t vote in favour of it because one of their key amendments – to secure £1million to spend on fixing potholes – was defeated.

Labour proposed eight amendments and managed to get six of them included in the final budget while the Liberal Democrats secured four of their five.

Mrs Williams said getting the Living Wage commitment in writing is “important”. “It helps support workers and their families by ensuring they are paid a wage that ensures a fair return for the work they put in and also reduces the burden on the benefit system,” she said.

A Labour move to protect children’s centres from cuts failed.

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  • SandraPee  |  February 27 2014, 8:57AM

    25 votes in favour , one against and 24 abstentions on agreement to it's next budget ? WHY 24 abstentions ?

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  • Lecorche  |  February 26 2014, 8:40PM

    One thing's for sure: Dodgy Dave won't be opening his cheque book. He'll be using ours.

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