A leading light in the campaign to save Garstang library today defended her decision to vote for the County Council’s ‘austerity budget’, which will see the closure of scores of rural services.
Coun Sandra Perkins fought tirelessly to save Garstang Library, one of 40 now set to close to save £7m, but the Independent member voted for County Hall’s proposed cuts, sparking criticism in some quarters that she has contradicted her own campaign.
But today she said: "“People can criticise me all they want but I, like all Lancashire County councillors, have my electorates best interests at heart and people in my division know that,” she said. “I am, like the other Independents, not constrained by having to toe the party line. So I can vote for what I believe is best.”
The savage cuts to services, proposed by the ruling Labour group, ranged from closing 40 libraries to ending all public bus subsidies and withdrawing council support for the Knott End ferry. It also saw an increase in council tax.
And, in a letter to the Courier last week, County Councillor for Longridge with Bowland and Conservative member, David Smith, said he held coun Perkins, along with three of her other colleagues, “totally responsible” for the cuts. “They will impact seriously on the residents of our rural villages, turning their lives upside down,” he said. “I can never forgive this betrayal of the rural communities.” The Conservative opposition opposed the plans to cut the planned £7.5m cuts to public bus service subsidies.
But coun Perkins has hit back at the comments and others who have criticised her vote by saying she doesn’t mind if she has offended people.
She said: “At no time have the opposition sought the opinion of, or shared their ideas for amendments to the budget, with Independent councillors. We have been consulted by both the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups. I believe we are in such dire straits, that we should be putting aside party differences and working together for the best outcome for the people of Lancashire and not playing tit for tat politics across the council chamber.
As far as not supporting opposition amendments is concerned, it is totally unreasonable to be presented with facts and figures just minutes before one is expected to vote on them.
However all Independent councillors voted one amendment through. We also presented our own amendment calling for a £3 million pounds contingency fund. We also asked for the formation of cross party groups to work with officers towards streamlining services to keep as many as possible, particularly the bus services. This is already underway with Independent councillor Paul Heyhurst chairing the bus service group.”
And coun Perkins has also condemned the lack of funding from the Governement after Preston received nothing from a £300m pot to help cash-strapped councils - while southern shires received millions.
“There seems to be no evidence that the opposition has lobbied their Government regarding the huge payments made to southern counties whilst Lancashire has received nothing,” she said. “They should have been doing just that! Sadly their party in central government has disrespected them by placing them in a position of having to try to defend the unfair and to my mind unjustifiable lack of funding. What makes the people of southern counties more worthy of Government handouts than the north? How can Government justify the divide? I have written twice to George Osborne to ask, and his reply, well he has not had the courtesy to give one on either occasion. I have now written to the Prime Minister. What it boils down to is that money is not coming from central government to Labour held authorities so in fact the electorate in those areas are being punished for their democratic vote.”
And explaining why she voted for the cuts, Sandra said: “Government cuts are crippling us. We need to be trying to sort things now not in two years’ time when we have no reserves left and we have to beg, borrow or steal to avoid bankruptcy, something I believe the Government wants to see. As an Independent I have to work with the sitting administration and I have done, and will continue to do so, to get the best outcome for the people who voted for me. If that offends some people, so be it.”