Councillors see red as budget debate gets cut

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COUNCILLORS representing voters in 1066 Country were prevented from having their say at the most important county council meeting of the year.

East Sussex County Council met in Lewes earlier this week to discuss the authority’s new budget, amid pressure to cut spending by £100million over the next four years.

An estimated 200 council jobs will go as the Conservative-run council is forced to make drastic savings of around £37million in the next financial year alone.

However, opposition councillors have hit out at the ruling party after a debate about the budget was cut short - preventing 11 speakers from having their say.

Discussions had already lasted more than two hours, as both the Lib Dems and Labour put forward hopeful amendments to the budget.

But further debate was cut short after the Tories decided to round things off before everyone had had their say - enraging opposition councillors.

The Lib Dem members walked out in protest and Labour Cllr Phil Scott accused the Conservatives of “political bullying” knowing that with 29 councillors they had a comfortable majority over the opposition (Lib Dem 13, Labour 4, Independent 3) with which to win the vote to stop discussions.

Speaking later in the week, Cllr Scott said: “At the most important meeting in the county council diary the political bullying was evident with the Tory administration using the constitution to stifle debate about amendments the Labour group and others had put forward.

“I wanted to speak but was denied the opportunity.

“The Conservatives have not allowed me to fully represent my residents at County Hall and they should be ashamed of themselves for their bully boy tactics.”

It was sentiment echoed by the Lib Dem leader David Tutt, who said: “The discussion on the budget was just getting into full swing.

“The move demonstrated contempt for the people of East Sussex.”

However, Conservative leader of the council Peter Jones said his party had done nothing wrong.

“We debated the budget proposals for almost two-and-a-half hours and a substantial number of councillors from all three parties had the chance to speak,” he told the Observer.

“Two-and-a-half hours was a good period to discuss the budget and all councillors have been involved in setting it since last July.

“As regards the Lib Dems walking out in the meeting, I thought it was the most pathetic thing I have seen in all my life in politics.”

He said in a recent seminar where all councillors had the chance to discuss the budget with council officers, only five of the Lib Dem councillors showed up.

Cllr Jones added: “One left early and only two took part in the discussion. It’s sheer hypocrisy.”

Unionists demonstrated against the cuts outside County Hall as the debate was taking place.