Thursday, 2 July 2009

Conservatives Catch Fire Over Expenses

With the recent heatwave comes the threat of fires.

Fire Chiefs have warned that fire can strike anywhere and at any time, so it is important to be careful to avoid injury or damage to property. Fire safety does not stop at the front door, and whether it is barbeques or the disposal of cigarette ends simple precautions against carelessness will prevent unforeseen tragedy and regret.

Fire Brigades are there to answer your call, but they warn a fire in a forest in the country or in a town alleyway can easily and quickly spread out of control, whatever the cause.

Meanwhile the provision of Berkshire Fire and Rescue has again come under the spotlight.

RBWM council leader Cllr David Burbage has attacked the 'software sausage machine' of centralised government guidance procedures and called for changes to allow local people to set local priorities as a way to protect closure of fire stations, such as those threatened at Windsor, Sonning and Dee Road in Reading.

However, while the Conservative spokesperson opposes local taxation powers to support local decision-making his colleagues are more ambivalent about taking money from the local fire budget without putting anything back.

Francis Batt reports that anger was fueled at the annual meeting of the Fire Authority when members voted themselves a 400% increase in expenses only moments after rejecting a rethink of a reduction in service involving the night-closure of the Windsor station!

Windsor Fire Station was flabbergasted by the announcement that only three Conservative councillors on the board (Christine Bateson, Phillip Bicknell and John Lenton) abstained from the vote which increased their basic allowances from £412 per year to £1,800 per year, noting that only LibDem Kathy Newbound of the representatives from RBWM voted against the rise.

Campaigner Richard Coates called it "an absolute disgrace" that all this additional money is to be taken out of the Fire budget, explaining that
"Members have voted themselves a rise in their allowances, plus extra travel and accommodation expenses which over the course of a year will be the equivalent of three whole time firemen's salary, enough to keep Windsor station open during the night hours."
Cllr Warren Swaine says this is what happens when you give tories a free reign, while Cllr David Burbage notes a recent speech made by David Cameron MP highlighting the need for transparency as a way to force elected representatives to improve their behaviour.

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Update: Conservative chairman of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority Cllr Dr Paul Bryant (Peeen, West Berks) defended the massive increase. He said it was the first rise in over ten years and explained that "it is important that local representation should not be restricted to the well off", claiming that the additional costs "will not have a detrimental effect on any of Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service's operational or support activities."

LibDem Cllr Prue Bray was outraged in response. She said "We were appalled at the greed of the Tories, especially at this time of recession, when residents of Berkshire are struggling to keep their jobs and their homes," calling it 'ridiculous' that the Conservative majority on the authority was able to ignore opponents and could effectively award this pay rise to themselves.

According to Reading Post only one of the four Labour members were in attendance at the meeting. Reading's Cllr Paul Gittings voted against the rise.

Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) explained that the package will cost £77,000 extra per year, and said "The Fire Service's finances are very stretched, and they should be spending their budget on firefighters and equipment, not on greedy councillors."

Meanwhile Cllr Bryant responded by claiming the allowance freeze had been an 'oversight' before stating that "the group... had got an independent person to look at it, [so] if we started to fiddle with their recommendations, why bother to ask them."

Windsor LibDems provides the full voting list.

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Royal Berkshire Fire Authority comprises 25 local councillors representing the six Berkshire unitary councils (3 from Bracknell Forest, 4 from Reading, 5 from RBWM, 3 from Slough, 5 from West Berks and 5 from Wokingham), and includes 16 Conservatives, 4 Labour, 4 LibDem and 1 Independent.

For more information please read the members handbook.

Oranjepan says:
A fair reward for a fair job is fair enough, but not when it comes at the expense of vital emergency services.

11 comments:

  1. You think your so clever with your headlines dont you?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Have you got any better suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I quite like the headline.

    I really want to know why these tories abstained as to me it sounds like- 'well i can't vote for it because that would make us look bad but if we vote against it then it might not go through and we would have to continue claiming expenses for b&b's instead of 5 star hotels'.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So are the Libs taking the pay rise?

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  5. Conservatives are the party of the rich. They vote their chums a pay rise and say they are helping the poor.

    Bunch of lying crooks.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This makes me very angry.

    ReplyDelete
  7. How did Labour vote?

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  8. Matt Blackall,
    only three Conservatives abstained, which means 13 voted in favour of the rise. Only one Labour turned up to vote against it - with that kind of opposition, who needs friends?

    ReplyDelete
  9. I was read the fact only one New Labour councillor out of four turned up. What a big opportunity New Labour have missed to get one over the Tories by all turning up and voting against the rise (that's assuming they all would of).

    Interesting to read though that one of the other proposals was to bring in the rise over a longer period of time rather than straight away. This was an idea put forward by the LibDems...

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  10. *I was reading the fact that....

    ReplyDelete
  11. Strange isn't how a story about Tory greed (nothing new there) becomes the fault of the other parties. How pathetic is that?

    ReplyDelete

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