Sssh! Don't mention the 'P' word. But politics won't take the hint

Written by Tony Millett.

(Photo by Eric Gilbert)(Photo by Eric Gilbert)Wiltshire Council's closure in July 2016 of Marlborough's Sure Start Children's Centre was not on the agenda for Monday's meeting of the full Town Council.  The closure is due to be nodded through by Wiltshire's cabinet later today (December 15) - though marked as a 'Key Policy' it is not going before the full council.

When Sylvia Card stood up at Public Question Time at the start of the meeting to ask about the closure, she was told by the Town Mayor, Councillor Margaret Rose: "I'd rather you did not make a political platform.  I don't want your party mentioned."

For avoidance of doubt Ms Card is Vice Chairman of the Devizes Constituency Labour Party and lives in Marlborough.  She wanted to know what steps the two town councillors who also sit on Wiltshire Council (Councillors Dobson and Fogg) and the other town councillors, had taken to prevent the Centre's closure.

Councillor Fogg (who sits as an Independent on Wiltshire Council) while having sympathy for the plight of the Centre said: "If no one communicates, it is difficult to respond.  Unless one is briefed, I don't think we can be expected to do very much without that briefing."

Councillor Stewart Dobson said he had spoken to Laura Mayes, the cabinet member in charge of the policy.  She believed the surviving Pewsey centre would "deal with the problem."  She would also be sending council officers to "places like Aldbourne": "She felt very confident that by sending officers they would provide services."

There was then an intervention from the floor by Marlborough's Team Rector, the Rev Canon Andrew Studdert-Kennedy: "The town council should be able to discover what is happening in the town - should it not be the responsibility of this body to know what is going on."

Councillor Dobson said the matter had been raised at Council six weeks ago: "Councillors were aware."  Councillor Marian Hannaford Dobson added: "I am sorry we weren't able to do more."

Later councillors reached item ten on the agenda which would set the town's council tax level - the precept - for the next financial year.

The increase had been fixed at 4.34 per cent.  But a late addition to the budget of £3,000 against further costs incurred when services are passed down to the town council by Wiltshire Council, put the increase up to 4.96 per cent.

For a Band D council tax-payer this will mean an annual payment of £156. Over the year that is an increase of £7.40 on the town's current council tax - or an extra 61 pence a month.  But before those figures were agreed there was what one might call a political debate.

Councillor Stewart Dobson (who sits as a Conservative member of Wiltshire Council) expressed disappointment at the rise: "Should we not be doing what we can to reduce the budget.  How can we cut back? I think we can trim things down."

Councillor Guy Loosmore took a very different line: "I don't think we should take the example of Wiltshire Council's cut and cut with their crumbling services down to almost nothing.  We cannot be like Wiltshire Council."

"They're dismantling their whole structure and often passing it down with no money coming with it.  We're under constant pressure from above to do more for less."

Which parts of all that was politics with a small 'p' or with a great big party 'P' is up to readers to decide.

When some criticism was made of the budget line for the Mayor-making ceremony, the chairman of the Finance and Policy Committee, Councillor Andy Ross made the point: "We're talking about a budget here - not expenditure.  We're not asking people to spend it."

The new precept was passed.  It remains to be seen whether Wiltshire Council will take advantage of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's permission to raise their council tax by up to two per cent to pay for more social care.  And that really will be ‘political’.