NELC leader Chris Shaw blasts Tories for not attending cuts meeting
COUNCIL leader Chris Shaw has slammed the Conservative opposition group for failing to attend a meeting to discuss the authority’s budget priorities.
Councillor Shaw said it was “galling” that no Tory councillor attended the briefing on the additional cuts facing the council in the next financial year.
In an outspoken attack at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, the Labour leader called on the Conservatives to take being in opposition “a bit more seriously”.
However, Tory group leader Keith Brookes brushed off the criticism, suggesting Councillor Shaw was a “worried man” who wanted to “implicate” the opposition groups in his budget.
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Councillor Shaw said that while Liberal Democrat group leader Andrew De Freitas had “dragged himself out of his sick bed” to be at the briefing, an ill Councillor Brookes had phoned him yesterday with a “feeble” excuse as to why he couldn’t send a colleague in his place.
The sole UKIP councillor Ron Shepherd was unable to attend due to work commitments.
The row follows last year’s budget fall-out, when the Conservatives abstained from voting after describing the budget as being “full of smoke and mirrors”.
As revealed in the Grimsby Telegraph last Friday, North East Lincolnshire Council will have to find an extra £8 million in savings by the end of 2015-16 – after its spending power for 2013/14 was cut by 5.2 per cent.
This is on top of the additional £7-million announced in October, and means the authority will have cut £58 million from its budget over five years – equating to a cut of £31,000 every day.
Five million pounds of the savings will have to come in the next financial year, and Councillor Shaw warned that some services could be vulnerable to the axe.
The council leader said: “I did offer the leaders of every political group the chance to come in and have a briefing with myself and officers to discuss the council’s financial priorities.
“Councillor De Freitas dragged himself out of his sick bed and Ron Shepherd did say he couldn’t come early and he can’t send a substitute. We pay a special responsibility allowance to the principal opposition and I find it galling that they couldn’t come.
“When offered the chance to send a deputy they offered a feeble excuse, which I would say is poor to say the least and shoddy at worst.
“Maybe they should take being in opposition a bit more seriously.”
However, Councillor Brookes said: “I did intend to go to the briefing but became ill and had to go to the doctors.
“I do not understand why Councillor Shaw is making a big deal out of this. His main concern should be delivering his budget.
“He went to the electorate saying he can be trusted and can run the council so then he needs to get on with it.
“He must be a very worried man feeling that he cannot deliver and in some way wants to implicate the opposition groups.”
Meanwhile council deputy leader Mick Burnett insisted the authority was not “crying wolf” about the severity of the cuts being imposed.
The council is to write to government claiming that it has been unfairly treated.
And Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers said he would support the authority as long as it could provide evidence.
Councillor Burnett said the cut in the government grant – from £53-5-million in 2013/14 to £41.5-million in 2015/16 was all the evidence they needed, adding: “This report illustrates that what we are saying is real. We are not crying wolf.”