Ceredigion County Council has a budget.
It's a rather dry statement but behind the words there's a story.
I've been a County Councillor now for 7 years and our full council budget setting meeting yesterday morning was the first in my recollection in all of that time where the budget was agreed unanimously by the entire council.
This really is quite something.
here in my blog back in December of co-operation between the ruling Independent-Welsh Liberal Democrat-Labour group with the Plaid Cymru opposition at that seasonal Christmas period. It doesn't happen often. As with any Council across the land, the moments of agreement between the aisles are usually clouded out by the often rancorous and ill-tempered debate and disagreement. But having said that, it very rarely gets personal in the Council chamber and the tone of debates are very often of a high and constructive standard.
A Budget for 2011-2012
Well yesterday saw one of those rare occasions when unanimity broke out across the Chamber to support, without any opposition, a budget for the next financial year.
Over the years, the annual budgetary debate has often been heated. In my earlier days, the debate was usually about the level and extent of the increase in Council Tax. In more recent years the issue has been on specific issues of policy and changes in particular lines in the budget. The most controversial was in 2007 when the changes to the Meals on Wheels service resulted in rightful uproar both in the council chamber and across the county.
2011 however has been a much more reasoned affair. Why? Well, the Council has worked more effectively and with input from all members from an earlier starting point this time around. There's a more 'collective' feeling of ownership now to the budgetary process than there has been in earlier years. There's also an acceptance across the chamber to the fact that cuts have got to be made and that grown-up approach and realisation is to be applauded.
This year there was one questionable part of the budget which could've been contested yesterday morning. The draft budget had reduced the community grants pot of cash from £90,000 down to £30,000. This is the valuable pot of cash which local community groups can apply for to contribute to projects that they may be undertaking in their communities. After discussions, the Council Leader Cllr Keith Evans yesterday annoucned to the full council that an additional £30,000 had been found to put into this pot to take it up to £60,000. This news was welcomed by all in the chamber as a reasonable compromise to allay concerns that had been raised by members.
So, when the final vote was taken yesterday, instead of having contentious ammendments thrown in on specific issues, the whole council votes in one voice on what was in front of them.
At such a difficult economic time, this mature way of working out a complex budget is to be commended. It doesn't happen often but on this most important of annual issues, it's a welcome departure from the more contentious arguments of the past.