PET grips county as politicians clash

SUFFOLK: County members had one eye on the general election as two politically-charged motions were debated at the full council meeting.

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard summed up the mood in the edgy chamber: “I think many of us are suffering from PET,” she said. “Pre-Election Tension seems to have broken out,” at which point members across the chamber burst into laughter.

Cabinet member for adult care Colin Noble had tabled a motion critical of the government’s decision to announce free home care for elderly people.

Meanwhile Labour leader Sandy Martin proposed that the county should negotiate a pay rise for council staff on the lowest salaries.

Mr Noble said the Prime Minister had made the announcement about free health care to the Labour Party conference last year with no consultation with councils who would have to administer it and no idea of the actual cost of the scheme.

He said: “The government is talking about funding it to about �6.4 million, but our officers have looked at the likely cost and think it will come out at about �14 million.”

Labour’s Bryony Rudkin said the costs of the proposal were not clear, but the government had promised to help fund scheme.

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During the debate on low wages at the county, Mr Martin said about 2,000 staff at the county earned just �6.29 an hour – an annual wage of about �12,000. Their wages had been frozen while inflation was now running at almost three per cent.

He said: “We know things are tight for the council, but all we are saying is that there should be meaningful negotiations with people who are on low wages and facing a 2.9per cent pay cut in real terms.”

Council deputy leader Jane Storey said the council had very dedicated staff – and they appreciated that the sharp recession meant it was necessary to make sacrifices at this time.

Mrs Pollard said it was refreshing to hear real political debate – even though the participants had one eye on the election.

Her party had sympathy with both other groups in relation to their arguments - and abstained on the votes.

The Conservative administration won both votes comfortably.