Councillors discussed whether to buy red or white wine during
Thursday’s budget meeting.
Some members of Brighton and Hove City Council entered the Town Hall with shopping bags filled with booze as the council tax debate raged on and ultimately ended with no conclusion.
Councillors were heard discussing which tipple to buy as Thursday’s meeting descended into a stalemate and the three main parties retired for an hour to try to resolve their differences.
But when they returned they refused to budge from their positions on spending plans and will now have to return to Hove Town Hall to try again.
With a crammed council chamber eagerly awaiting a decision on one of the city’s longest and most hard-fought budget battles, more than three hours of debate and two hours of backroom dealing could not bring the three sides together.
While the three leaders debated in the backrooms, councillors were heard on the chamber floor whispering about what type of wine to buy.
Some councillors were clearly angry that deals were being discussed about votes being promised in return for agreements about cuts to the Pride festival.
The Green Party was accused of offering Labour three votes if their leader Warren Morgan could get his party to cut £6,000 from the agreed £25,000 fund for the Pride festival.
Angry members also said votes were being offered in return for three Green councillors being allowed another speech on their preferred 4.75% increase.
It was in the recess that councillors were overheard deciding what kind of wine they should have during their backroom negotiations.
Councillor Ruth Buckley, who was overheard by those within the chamber
discussing wine choices, said: “We talked about it and then we realised it wasn’t the best thing to do for the people of the city.”
Another councillor, Labour’s Alan Robins, described how he saw some
councillors, including Sven Rufus, leaving the chamber before returning with
bags of booze.
“There were several people who saw them,” said the councillor.
“I saw councillor Rufus coming back with big carrier
bags with bottles.
“We were instructed not to leave. Everyone was wanted here because
we didn’t know what was going to happen and we needed everyone to be about.
The idea of them sitting in a room drinking bitter and eating Pringles beggars belief.”
Coun Robins added he didn’t know if any councillors had consumed alcohol
on the premises.
The Green Party is trying to get the council to agree on a referendum to push through a 4.75% council tax increase while Labour want a 2% rise and the Tories want a freeze.
With the council’s budget now due back for debate in the next week, councillors are under intense pressure to sort out their differences before March 11, at which point the Government will step in and set the budget for them.
Green leader Jason Kitcat praised the running of the meeting and while he said he had not seen any drinking taking place, he added: “I’m aware that some people did some shopping and bought some things to take home.”
Adding that he would not allow the Government to step in to set the budget, he added: “More work is to be done and we believe a referendum is the right way forward. My door is always open and I’m open to conversation.”
Speaking after the meeting, Coun Morgan said: “We need a sensible and flexible approach from the Greens and Conservatives that will allow us to set a budget this week as we are required to do by law.
“If they don’t then the damage to the council in terms of cost, reputation and the Government stepping in to take over will be huge.”
Speaking about how the entire budget had been handled, Conservative leader Geoffrey Theobald said: “I restate my position that we’d vote against anything that was a council tax increase and I would like the other parties to vote with us.”