The questions that demand an answer

At the most recent meeting of Stockport Council, Liberal Democrat Group Leader Cllr Mark Hunter revealed, to the surprise of those present in the chamber, that he had discovered that the council had been using consultants PWC for nearly a year to support Stockport Together.

The consultants have been employed on a rolling contract to provide additional capacity as Stockport Council and Stepping Hill Hospital wrestle with the issues involved in setting up the new Stockport Together organisation, designed to improve delivery of health and adult social care services to local residents.

Cllr Hunter cited a recent joint report of parliamentary Select Committees which had disclosed that the average fee for a senior consultant at PWC was £885 per hour.

Cllr Hunter pointed out that, despite Stockport being a balanced council, the decision to use consultants had not been discussed via the usual channels of all-party Group Leader meetings and, in the interests of openness and transparency, demanded to know which cabinet member had signed off the decision, which cabinet meeting had formally agreed it, what were the terms and conditions, and what has been the cost so far.

Cllr Hunter said: “The Leader of the Council likes to remind us on a regular basis of how committed he is to accountability and transparency, yet he appears to think he can get away with hiding what is a potentially significant expense and keep this decision secret.

“He was clearly wrong-footed at the council meeting when I asked the question and, although he promised a reply, one has not yet materialised.”

Stockport Lib Dems call for Treasury Select Committee inquiry into RBS branch closures

Following the recent shock announcement by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to close another 162 branches nationwide, Stockport Liberal Democrats have called on the bank to re-think its proposal and have asked Stockport Council to write to the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee – Nicky Morgan MP – demanding an inquiry. The Lib Dems have also submitted a motion to the next meeting of Stockport Council condemning the five branch closures proposed in the borough and hope to get all party support for their campaign.

Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of the Lib Dem Group at Stockport Town Hall, said: “As RBS is owned by the tax-payer these proposals to reduce their high street presence still further are simply unacceptable. Many jobs will be lost and for those people who still use these facilities the trek to the next nearest branch will cause great inconvenience. In Cheadle Hulme the problem is especially bad as this is the last remaining bank branch in the district centre. We reject the assumption that internet banking is the right choice for everyone – many people still prefer to conduct their business face to face.

Deputy Leader, Cllr Lisa Smart, added: “Bank branches can be anchors in their high streets and draw customers to neighbouring small businesses. Losing 31 branches across Greater Manchester and five across Stockport will be a further blow to our hard-working retailers. We hope that the Treasury Select Committee will take up our call for an inquiry into this ill-thought proposal.”

Lib Dems call for resignation of a senior Labour councillor

Stockport Liberal Democrats have called for the resignation of a senior Labour councillor after she was forced to apologise for using “abusive” language on social media. Cllr Kate Butler, the cabinet member responsible for Economy and Regeneration at the Town Hall, was formally rebuked by Council bosses who said “the language used was abusive and can reasonably be regarded as bringing the office of councillor into disrepute”.

Cllr Butler was alleged to have referred to a representative of various community groups a “sock puppet w*****”.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Stockport, Cllr Mark Hunter, said “There’s simply no excuse for this kind of behaviour and it is plain wrong that the Labour leadership of the Council continues to support this member on its front bench. Cllr Butler has been found guilty of breaching the councillors’ code of conduct on two counts and should be relieved of her duties forthwith.

“The fact that this incident happened several months ago and the complaint has only come to light because of this week’s report by the Manchester Evening News is simply wrong – councillors and local people would otherwise have been kept completely in the dark.

“Having been reprimanded officially by the Council, Kate Butler should have done the decent thing and offered her resignation, but to continue to be backed by the Labour leadership and keep her front bench position just demonstrates the contempt some Labour politicians have for the general public.”

Cllr Lisa Smart, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group added ” Residents are right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour from the people they elect to represent them. I just don’t see how Cllr Butler can bring the community together to make the most of the ongoing investment projects given her past behaviour. For that reason, we are calling on her to resign from her role on the Labour Cabinet with immediate effect and allow someone else to take these projects forward.”

Stockport Liberal Democrats call for action on town centre

Speaking after further announcements of retail closures affecting Stockport Town Centre, Cllr Mark Hunter, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, called for urgent action from Stockport Council. He said: “It is clear we need to up our game and not just let this happen around us. We need to respond to the changing pattern of retail with radical ideas and vision.

“Now we should be thinking big and encouraging more residential development in the heart of the town, taking advantage of the excellent transport links. At a time when developers are increasingly targeting our valuable green belt, we need to ensure that the full potential of Stockport Town Centre is fully realised.

Cllr Lisa Smart, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, said: “Stockport Town Centre has great transport links and would make a fantastic location for more residential development. As the nature of the way we shop changes, we need bold thinking and strong leadership to drive our town forwards.”

Stockport Lib Dems pledge to freeze parking charges in district centres

Stockport Liberal Democrats have pledged to freeze parking charges in district centres if they regain control at the Town Hall following this summer’s elections.

Speaking about Labour’s proposals, Cllr Mark Hunter, leader of the Lib Dem Group, said: “Labour are proposing a huge hike in parking charges in places like Cheadle, Cheadle Hulme, Marple, and Romiley. In the district centres, they want to scrap the one-hour charge and replace it with a minimum two-hour charge instead, whilst in certain car parks near to railway stations they want to replace the current free parking with hefty charges.

“Labour’s own figures suggest this will mean over a third of the visits to our district shopping centres will cease, which would be a huge blow to our already hard-pressed local traders. The local representative of the Federation of Small Businesses has written to all councillors in protest, highlighting the dangers of this folly.

“Labour also forecast over a third of cars currently parking for free near the railway stations will no longer park there, which is likely to mean those cars will either get displaced to park on nearby residential roads or they will add to the commuter traffic already clogging our roads.

“Stockport’s Lib Dems have pledged to freeze the parking charges in our district centre and railway station car parks if we are returned to power in May.”

Greater Manchester Police facing £6.93m real-terms cut despite government smoke and mirrors

Greater Manchester Police are facing a real-terms cut of £6.93m next year, the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

Yesterday the government announced that core funding for police budgets will remain exactly the same as last year.

Taking into account inflation, that means Greater Manchester Police will face a real-terms cut of £6.93m.

The additional £270m of funding the government claims to be investing in the police nationally depends entirely on local Police and Crime Commissioners raising the police precept in their areas, which the Liberal Democrats have branded a “stealth council tax rise”.

Lib Dem Group Leader at Stockport Council, Cllr Mark Hunter commented:

“The Conservatives are ignoring calls from senior officers to increase investment in our police.

“The impact of this cut in police budgets will be felt in our communities and in our streets.

“With crime rising, the government should have increased police budgets in real terms.

“Even the Conservatives’ attempt at a stealth council tax rise won’t be enough to protect local police forces.

“I’m genuinely shocked that Ministers are ignoring the alarming rise in serious crime with this short-sighted decision.”