A Conservative councillor in York has been accused of insulting his own constituents after describing a council debate on the effect of local cuts as a “complete waste of time”. A leading local activist has called on him to apologise.
The councillor, John Galvin, made the remark during a council meeting yesterday evening (7 April) as he proposed to bring a halt to a debate on how the cuts would impact on disabled people.
York City Council is committed to debating any petition signed by at least 1,000 of the city’s residents. Disability activists gathered around 1,400 signatures for a petition calling on the council to maintain previously ringfenced funding for disabled and older people, including those with mental health problems.
Protesters demonstrated outside the full council meeting as campaign representatives addressed the councillors inside. Local mental health campaigner Ceri Owen told the council that they did not have public support for cuts to staffing in older people’s services and increased charges for respite care, day centres and specialist transport.
She insisted that some cuts would end up increasing costs to the taxpayer in the long run. She gave the example of calling a mental health support line which had not been answered after three hours, meaning that she had to visit a hospital’s accident and emergency department instead. The support line is run by a service whose funding is being slashed by more than a quarter.
“People have speculated wildly in the pages of York Press and elsewhere about my political affiliations,” said Ceri Owen, “I'm not part of any political party or trade union, and the Bible is the closest thing I have to a manifesto”.
She added, “It tells me in Proverbs 31:8-9 to ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’”
Other residents who spoke included the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who criticised the council’s proposed 80 per cent cut to funding for Holocaust Memorial Day.
But the campaigners were disappointed when the chair of the meeting said that the council would debate their response to the petition, rather than the petition itself. The part of the petition urging the council to take up the issue with York’s MPs was not discussed.
Only a few councillors had spoken when John Galvin proposed that the debate be ended. He described it as a “complete waste of time”. His proposal was defeated when put to the vote. The council later agreed to refer the matter to a sub-committee.
Ceri Owen told Ekklesia that she regarded Galvin’s comment as “an insult to the people of York who signed the petition - more than half as many again as voted for Councillor Galvin”. She said he should apologise.
The cuts are likely to be a key issue in local elections, which will see the whole of York City Council facing the voters on 5 May.