JIM PARKER: Standing by his vote against group
THERE they were — poised for a major victory against their fiercest political rivals, only to be undone by one of their own.
The Lib Dems must have thought they had the Tories by the short and curlies at last week's Torbay Council meeting.
It was all over moves to do away with cash help for people on benefits and paying their council tax bills.
Previously, the Town Hall has helped pay the bills for some of those people claiming benefit and of a working age — in some cases all of the charges have been paid.
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Faced with trying to find massive savings of £10million in the coming 12 months, the ruling Tories put forward a motion that these people should now pay at least 25 per cent of their annual bills.
Civic chairman and leading Lib Dem councillor Roger Stringer either voted against or abstained (he says he cannot remember) in that vote.
But then an amendment was put on the table by his own Lib Dem group calling for a 12.5 per cent contribution rather than the 25 per cent.
The vote was split right down the middle which left Cllr Stringer with the casting vote — which he used to go against his own group's move and their amendment was lost.
He was subsequently summoned by group chairman Andrew Baldrey and group leader Steve Darling to explain his actions.
Cllr Darling said: "He voted against us. It is a private matter to be discussed with Roger behind closed doors regarding group discipline.
"We have held a meeting with Roger and it is now for the group to decide."
According to the group standing orders — evidently it's all about 'loyalty' here — there are three ways forward: taking no further action, a verbal warning or a written warning.
Cllr Darling said: "It needs to go back to the group. We do a statement of fact back to the group."
He said the normal process for his councillors was 'if you have any concerns about the way the group is planning to you should have told the group leader on what you were planning to do'
"He (Cllr Stringer) did not. I was somewhat disappointed."
Cllr Darling says savings could have been made by doing away with other council tax discounts and was concerned about the impact a 25 per cent contribution to council tax bills would have on some people.
"They are already being squeezed by having other reductions," he said.
Cllr Stringer stands by his decision.
He says: "I voted against the amendment because I thought this effects the whole of the Bay.
"It was a very, very difficult vote. It just thought it was the best for the Bay.
"I am neutral. It was a really difficult decision to make.
"The group has asked me for my reasons which I can understand.
"I have told them the reasons and I have come home quite happy.
"I think they may say 'don't do it again'.
"I stand by what I did. It was the best for me. I was the last in the line.
"I did not know how I was going to vote. That's the truth. At the end of the debate I had an idea in my mind.
"I thought 'sorry boys, I cannot go for this'.
"It was like being in court when I was a magistrate. You listen to both sides before making a final decision. That's the way to do it.
"In this 12 months (as civic chairman) I am non political.
"I am the piggy in the middle. It's about the Bay. I took this position to do what I could do for the Bay."
He was praised by none other than deputy mayor and leading Tory Dave Thomas, who said: "He was in an incredibly difficult position. I thanked him publicly for what he did."
To be honest, I'm not absolutely sure about the ins and outs if these proposals. I only know a lot of people already struggling to make ends end are going to be hit even harder, but it is refreshing to see a councillor putting people before politics.
THE Riviera International Conference Centre has never been the flavour of the month with some as it continues to be a drain on the public purse. Some of those critics may be won over — or at least be given some encouragement — with news that a new management team at the RIC appear to be slowly but surely making in-roads into reducing those demands.
New board chairman Cris Boyce has revealed that after just nine months in charge the RIC will be able to cut its annual subsidy from the Town Hall — normally more than £640,000 a year — by more than £212,000 for the coming year. But will that be enough to keep the wolves from the door ....
I am told there is some disquiet that more is not being taken from the RIC as £10million cash cuts begin to bite hard.
Torbay Mayor Gordon Oliver has made no secret of his support for the seafront complex. He found them an extra £250,000 this year for urgent repairs and word has it that he is still very keen for the support to continue. But does he have the full support of his own group going forward?
Some may believe that the RIC should take more of a hit as part of the Draconian cuts across the Bay.
I gather the position may become a little clearer when the overview and scrutiny people look at the budget in the New Year. At the moment, it appears the Mayor is sticking to his guns. But we may be in for some interesting votes when not just the opposition may be thinking differently. Best of luck, meanwhile, to Mr Boyce and his team....