Budget cuts approved by Canterbury City Council
INSULTS were traded as councillors set their budget for the year ahead.
In one of the most bitter debates for years, members of Canterbury City Council spent more than three hours last night (Thursday, February 18) arguing about the future of the district's museums, public toilets and grants to charities.
Officials had warned public access would be limited to 125 people and provided extra security but fewer than half that number turned up to hear the debate.
The ruling Conservative party showed a united front to defeat proposals from the opposing Lib Dems and voted through a budget council leader John Gilbey described as "realistic".
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He said: "We have set a budget that tackles the severe economic climate while protecting the statutory and frontline services that we know people want.
"The council will continue to be extremely vigilant with its budgets and take a realistic approach to the financial situation whilst continuing to deliver the best possible services."
During the debate, Cllr Gilbey said the recession had forced the council to take difficult decisions including reducing staffing levels, joint working and efficiency savings.
He was given extra time on top of his allotted 10 minutes to outline his arguments about long-term planning and to promise discussions would continue over the next 12 months, with most savings not coming into effect until next year.
Derisive laughter greeted his vow to defend the district's reputation as "excellent and inspirational" but Cllr Gilbey insisted the future was positive.
He said: "This council has the management and teamwork to use our capital budget to provide some optimism and even fire the imagination.
"In this economic climate, more than ever, it is essential to establish the viability of projects.
"These cultural, leisure, sporting and infrastructure projects will have a huge impact on our community if they are sensibly and appropriately financed."
But Lib Dem councillor Adam Parsons described Cllr Gilbey as a "twisted Robin Hood", cutting grants to Age Concern and other charities, but not giving to anyone.
And Cllr Ida Linfield addressed all the Conservative members when she added: "We are accountable to the electorate. We are not accountable to group leaders. Beware of the public. You will get what you deserve."
Lib Dem leader Cllr Alex Perkins set out six amendments to save the Roman and Westgate Tower museums, toilets, Herne Bay museum, charity funding and Westgate Hall, but each was defeated by the ruling Tories.
He said keeping the museums open could cost as little as 2p per household per week and also suggested other ways of funding them, including setting up a trust to manage them.
Cllr Perkins added: "The huge groundswell of support for our museums have made me realise that we have for years been missing an opportunity.
"With better marketing and new signage these museums can be made into a success story."
And he urged Conservative councillors to listen to voters who protested about the planned cuts.
In a direct plea to wavering councillors he hoped would support the amendments, he said: "Please don't be guided tonight by your political prejudices.
"Please don't just say it's good enough to do nothing and hide behind the damaging mantra that the user pays.
"Accepting these amendments simply means that you have listened to local people and responded to their wishes. It's just a matter of making choices. Make the right ones tonight."
(BLOB) Funding cuts will take effect from April, although the museums will not close until next year and a review is planned for March to find possible partners to keep them open. Whitstable council office and several public toilets will also shut.