Full Council today. It started off with a pleasant, formal event - the installation of former councillor Keith Whitmore as an Honorary Alderman. Keith stood down from the Council in May after 33 years and all members of the Council were delighted to support the honouring of this long and distinguished public service. The meeting then became very much more serious.
The City Council's Head of Council Tax and Benefits, Julie Price, gave a presentation on the government's changes to welfare benefits, some already in and some, like Universal Credit and the scrapping of the current Council Tax benefit system, on the way. Big issues addressed included what is now widely understood as the bedroom tax and the imposition of a benefits cap. Julie was followed by Karen Dyson from Citizens Advice Bureaux talking about the research they had done into the impact of these cuts, and Nigel Wilson, Chief Executive of Willow Park and Parkway Green Housing trusts, talking about the impact on social landlords and their tenants. It was a dismal half hour. The good news is that pensioners are largely protected. The bad news is that these cuts aren't at the work-shy or the welfare scroungers. The people most hit will be families with young children, older couples whose children have grown up and left home, and anybody who has the misfortune to be under 35. I know cutting benefits is generally popular with the public, but I think that popularity will wane very quickly when people see just who is being hit and what the impacts on society are. We won't see the full impact of these changes for a couple of years but for thousands of families, and many neighbourhoods, they are potentially devastating.
Council business tends to be determined by the political parties. This year, given the dominance of the Labour Party in the Council Chamber, we have introduced the Council equivalent of a private members bill, the difference being that in our version they have a chance of being passed. Each Council meeting, a member of the Labour Group ( determined by a draw ) is able to present a resolution of his or her choice and there is no party whip in place. The lucky winner for today's meeting was newly elected Councillor Bridie Adams who moved a resolution opposing government legislation depriving victims of domestic violence of legal aid. Bridie's resolution got pretty overwhelming support but I have no doubt we will get some controversy before the year is out.
The meeting went rapidly down hill after that.