Budget row as Tories try to cut museum’s money
A fierce argument erupted over spending priorities when Maidstone Borough Council set its budget for the next financial year.
The Conservative group attempted a last- minute amendment to give more money for planning enforcement, which everyone agreed was in poor shape.
But the Tory plans to take £100,000 out of the contingency budget and £50,000 from Maidstone Museum did not go down well with any of the other political groups at the meeting on March 1.
Cllr John Perry (Con) said planning was one of the key services of the borough, but it was pointless if there were not the resources to properly enforce the decisions.
Cllr Annabelle Blackmore (Con) said people’s lives were being “blighted by the lack of planning enforcement”.
Referring to a survey of residents’ priorities, Cllr Matt Boughton (Con) pointed out that planning was a major concern for voters, whereas heritage and leisure was at the bottom of the list.
But Cllr Dan Daley (Lib Dem) spoke up for the museum, saying it was a “cultural beacon” in the South East, with internationally important collections.
Cllr Eddie Powell (Ukip) agreed the borough’s planning enforcement was “in a pretty damn awful state,” but said the museum should not be made to suffer.
Cllr Emily Fermor (Lib Dem) said research had shown that experiencing heritage and culture could have “a beneficial effect on people’s mental and physical health”.
Council leader Cllr Fran Wilson (Lib Dem) said that although enforcement is an area that needed sorting out, slashing £ 50,000 from the museum budget would send the wrong message to the other bodies and private individuals who had supported it with donations totalling £191,000 this year.
Cllr Chris Garland (Con) accused the Liberal Democrats of having “an obses- sion” with heritage and culture. He said: “The museum’s budget is £1.4m. Taking away £50,000 is not going to make it fall down.”
Independent Cllr Fay Gooch was worried about taking money out of the contingency fund before the year had even started. “This is there for when it’s really needed,” she said.
The Conservative’s amendment was defeated with 23 votes in favour and 30 against.
Lib Dem councillors Emily Fermor and Dan Daley, right, have been accused of having an obsession with heritage and culture; far right, Cllr Chris Garland argued for a cut of £50,000 to be taken from the museum’s budget