Stand-up row over pay and display petition at County Hall
Proposals to extend on-street pay and display charges to almost a dozen towns in Lancashire sparked a heated stand-off at a County Hall cabinet meeting.
Currently, roadside parking fees apply only in Preston and Lancaster, but as part of a bid to raise almost Â£200,000 in revenue, Lancashire County Council is to consult on widening the charges to areas including Chorley, Lytham and Colne.
During a discussion about a wider Â£77m package of budget reductions, Liberal Democrat group leader, David Whipp, stood to present a 2,500-signature over the parking plans.
The move caused Conservative council leader Geoff Driver to adjourn the meeting - at which point County Cllr Whipp claimed he was no longer “gagged” by rule changes restricting who can speak during cabinet.
The veteran politician then began to address the room, drawing County Cllr Driver to his feet to stand directly in front of him.
“It’s time that you actually looked to the people of Lancashire and respected what they wanted rather than riding roughshod over their needs,” County Cllr Whip said, before demanding the parking proposals be withdrawn.
“Do you feel better now?” County Cllr Driver asked, requesting the Lib Dem sit down for a second time.
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But County Cllr Whipp refused, telling the Tory leader he was being “confrontational”.
“I’m not being confrontational - I wanted to hear what you had to say. You are distracting cabinet members from their duties,” County Cllr Driver said in soft tones.
The toe-to-toe discussion between the pair ended only when Conservative member Cosima Towneley intervened, urging County Cllr Driver to “walk away” - which, after a moment’s consideration, he duly did.
During the adjournment, County Cllr Towneley rubbished the row, saying “not a darn thing has even been decided yet”.
But Labour opposition leader Azhar Ali said he was “shocked that the council leader has shut down the meeting just because he doesn’t like a different view”.
"The campaign continues and I'm sure we'll force a u-turn on this crazy town tax," he added.
County Cllr Whipp decried "a minor financial cut which will have a devastating impact on towns in Lancashire".
However, speaking after the meeting, County Cllr Driver emphasised that residents and businesses will be consulted before any decision is made. He also condemned the Lib Dem group leader's actions actions.
"At no time did County Cllr Whipp attempt to present a petition to me or Cabinet and I was not even aware he had one until much later. All he was doing is what he has done on many occasions before to disrupt the meeting and prevent Cabinet going about its legitimate business on behalf of the people of Lancashire. He is a disgrace.
"There was no proposal to introduce charging for kerbside parking in Colne or anywhere else - the proposal was to consult on the possibility of doing so," County Cllr Driver said.
When proceedings resumed, former county councillor Lord Tony Greaves also rose to call County Cllr Driver “a dictator, not fit to hold office”.
“You’re not in the House of Lords now - sit down,” the Conservative leader said.
No further discussion was permitted of the savings and revenue-raising measures - of which pay and display charges were one of the most insignificant in cash terms.
Earlier, chief executive Angie Ridgwell had introduced budget proposals which, if accepted, will allow the authority to set a balanced budget for each of the next four years.
"I don't underestimate the challenge these proposals present and the difficult decisions that will have to be taken if they are adopted," she said.
Cabinet members then outlined the rationale for savings suggestions across each of their portfolios.
With a department which accounts for 40 percent of annual spending at the authority, member for adult services, Graham Gooch, said Lancashire had more people in residential care than almost any other part of the country.
He added that the elderly and people with learning disabilities would be given more independence, via use of technology and more appropriate community housing schemes - some of which would require upfront investment before savings could be realised.
The meeting heard that slings and other equipment would be used to allow single-handed care visits which currently require two members of staff.
"Frankly, it's rather undignified for people to be heaved around by two people," County Cllr Gooch said, adding that districts may be asked to contribute to initial investment via a special grant they receive.
Meanwhile, multi-million pound reductions in public health spending are to be mitigated, according to member for wellbeing, Shaun Turner, by increased use of the voluntary sector to help those with physical and mental health needs.
"Clinical Commissioning Groups also do this work already in some parts of the county, so we need to better link up with them," County Cllr Turner said.
But opposition leader Azhar Ali condemned the proposed cessation of the Lancashire Wellbeing Service.
“Without these services, people will end up as inpatients or worse - you will lose lives.
“Staff are frightened and say there are people who won’t be around if this goes ahead, because the wider service is at breaking point,” County Cllr Ali added.
He also branded plans to turn out selected residential streetlights overnight as "a mugger's paradise". It is proposed that 18,000 of the 100,000 streetlamps across the county are switched off between midnight and 5am to create partial night lighting in some areas.
Some of the proposals will require public consultation before any changes can be approved. The package of measures will be debated when the full cuoncil meets to set its annual budget in February.