CONSERVATIVE councillors staged a dramatic walkout at Ebley Mill on Thursday night in protest at a motion calling for Stroud District Council to back a national campaign for a ‘Robin Hood tax’ on big banks.
The motion, put forward jointly by the Green Party and Labour, asserted that there was an alternative to the “Government’s ideologically-driven attack on public services – namely the levy of a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT)” on the British banking sector.
Proposed by Cllr Molly-Scott Cato (Green, Valley) and seconded by Cllr Paul Denney (Lab, Cam West), it argued that cuts to local government – and the resultant loss of public services – could be reversed if a FTT was imposed on large financial institutions in order to generate extra revenues for the Treasury.
The motion noted that local government would have seen its funding cut by £6 billion over the course of this Parliament, while extending an existing FTT on shares to other asset classes such as bonds and derivatives had the potential to raise £20 billion of additional cash for the Exchequer.
Before councillors had a chance to consider the motion, however, Conservative group leader Keith Pearson (Upton St Leonards) stood-up and announced that his party would be taking no part in the debate and would be leaving the chamber immediately.
The 18 Tory members then rose from their seats and stormed out, surprising many of the remaining councillors who appeared visibly taken aback by their opponent's actions.
Reading a pre-prepared statement before his group’s swift departure, Cllr Pearson accused the motion’s backers of ‘political posturing’ and claimed the district council was increasingly being used as a platform for debating issues which did not affect local people.
“Issues that are making a party political view or purely for electioneering purposes should be left to the party machine and press releases and should not take up council resources,” he said.
However, once the Tory group had left the chamber, the council’s legal advisor Karen Tricky said Ebley Mill was an appropriate forum to debate the motion, which also called on the district council to join with other local authorities in lobbying the Government to extend the FTT.
SDC’s chairman Dennis Andrewartha then apologised to all those constituents who would be left without representation in the subsequent debate.
Introducing the motion, Cllr Molly-Scott Cat, said: “Tonight we can do something to shift the balance so that we are no longer in a situation where the costs of finance are socialised, while the benefits are privatised.
“We can take a step that will challenge the idea that our only job as councillors is to implement the cuts that austerity politics imposes upon us.”
Cllr Scott Cato said at least 11 European nations, including Germany and France, were already pressing ahead with a FTT and added: “The rest of the world is moving on from an era when it was respectable for a tiny number of people to profit at the expense of the rest of us.
“You don't need to be a radical to support the Financial Transaction Tax.
“All it does is take a tiny proportion of the massive profits being made by financial industries and send them in the direction of some of the most vulnerable in our society.”
Labour councillor Paul Denney, who seconded the motion, echoed the sentiments of his alliance partner and said the FTT was ‘far less’ than the banks should be paying anyway given that they had been bailed out by the taxpayer.
The motion was ultimately passed with the support of Green Party and Labour members, while the Lib Dems and the one Conservative non-group member Nigel Studdert Kennedy (The Stanleys) voted against it.
Following its successful passage, SDC will now write to the chancellor and shadow chancellor of the exchequer, and the secretary of state for communities and local government, in order to state its support for the FTT.
By departing the chamber, the Conservatives also missed an opportunity to debate another motion on local Government finance.
But in a statement emailed to the press afterwards, Tory councillor Emma Simms (Nailsworth) described the FTT motion as ‘superficial’ and said she was ‘patronised and insulted’ by it being brought to council.