Feb 16 2011 By Matt Hurst
WIRRAL Labour Group leader, Councillor Steve Foulkes accused the ruling Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition of "gagging" the official scrutiny process by deferring a meeting due to go ahead last night.
The Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee was due to discuss budget proposals in Wallasey Town Hall but a resolution was moved by the ruling group labelling any investigation "vexatious", forcing the meeting into March.
Cllr Steve Foulkes said: "This is totally outrageous.
"Yet again we have been gagged and prevented from asking legitimate questions about how services will be affected for the people of Wirral.
"There are real issues here that need to be debated before it's too late.
"Just what are they running scared of?
"We have a contitutional right as scrutiny committee members to consider and question any budget proposals.
"This right has been denied to us.
"In December, they suspended the council's constitution to prevent us scrutinising their decisions.
"Last night, they refused us the right to speak, even though the fact theses special committees could be called was one of the reasons given by the monitoring officer for not referring the matter to scrutiny in December.
"And I see from the agenda for budget cabinet on Monday that there are now proposals to change the procedure at budget council in order to prevent any amendments to the budget being voted on first, or indeed voted on at all if the administration railroads their budget through first.
"Actions speak louder than words.
"We have heard a lot of sweet words about openness and transparency and consultation with the public.
"But what they do is very different from what they say.
"Hidden in the velvet glove extended to the public, it seems, is the old iron fist of dictatorship, brooking no challenge of scrutiny.
"Do they not understand that their actions could make the council's budget unlawful?"
But Conservative Councillor John Hale, who chaired last night's meeting, countered: "They're playing politics.
"What they were trying to do was use the meeting to find out what the budget announcements would be in the next couple of weeks and they're not entitled to.
"All they had to do was ask officers for a briefing if they had an questions, which is what we always had to do."
A further two scrutiny meetings are scheduled for this week, with the Children and Young People committee meeting tonight and the Health and Well Being committee due to sit tomorrow.
Wirral TUC has called for protests outside Wallasey Town Hall tomorrow, ahead of the Health and Well Being Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting at 6.15pm, to oppose proposed budget cuts.