'I thought you no longer loved me Mr Mayor'

March 03, 2010

On the 18th February me and my fellow classmates attended a Winchester City Council meeting. The meeting consisted of 10 questions various councillors put forward to the Cabinet, to discuss different budgets and programs and tot hen vote if a program is to go ahead.

I found the meeting interesting, there were many ‘jabs’ at other members of the council and plenty of jokes. When describing the ‘economically inactive travellers’ for example, the cabinet mentioned they have a ‘limpet like ability’, and that they could simply not force them to move. When they Mayor fell asleep, one councillor woke him before he asked his questioned an declared ‘I thought you no longer loved me Mr Mayor’, surely all council meetings where not like this?

For those of you who didn’t attend this meeting, or for those who left early (well, everyone except for me!), this is what happened:

Most of the question time discussed council housing within Winchester. One questioned asked if there should be a system what should move those who really need a house to the front of the waiting list. In answer to this, the cabinet seemed confused as to what ‘criteria’ is set in place; all they said on the matter is that future tenants have been put to the back of the list if they had outstanding council debt or had obtained ASBO’s. The Mayor then interrupted and told the councillor that ‘the cabinet will not discus equality issues’, and will talk about the matter in private.

Another question relating to housing was that the DVD’s that showed the inside of council houses to future tenants did not show the outside, and f it was possible to add this onto the DVD (there have been a lot of problems lately that families with disabled members have accepted the house, and that it was in fact unusable as their were steps going into the house). A ridiculous answer was given that there were ‘constraints on the housing revenue’, and they simply couldn’t afford to do so! –A DVD is already given, would it really cost a lot more to add an extra scene?

A big issue in the meeting was the selling of council homes. A councillor argued that as there were fewer and fewer council houses and a growing waiting list, why are they being sold? They also argued that they thought it was bad economics and they will get no long lasting return. The cabinet answered that they ‘make no apology to selling very condemned properties’, if the properties are sold, fixed, and then leased, then one more property is being given to Winchesters public. If the council were to keep these houses, they wouldn’t be up to a living standard for years.

An absurd question was then put to the cabinet; a councillor asked if homeless people who had trades in building or decorating could fix the condemned buildings the council owns, and to then live in them after. The answer to this was that it would cost £25, 000 to maintain these properties, and that they cannot be given to those with relevant DIY skills, but to those who need it more under the banding system.

A speech from a cabinet member did make me very proud to live in Winchester however, after a council member complained that a voluntary group they know got 3% less running costs from the council this year. The cabinet replied that Winchester has a very large voluntary sector, which they looked after very well. By cutting 3% of running costs to the groups they had last year, and instead of giving a priority number of grants or giving nothing to new groups, they were able to fund every group (37) which applied for a grant. When a Lib Dem councillor mentioned that other councils has not done the same, the answer was given that ‘they obviously are not run by a conservative party’.

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© Charlotte Aimee Clarke 2010