Lib Dems block 'toll tax' debate

Date published: 16 October 2008

A bid by the Conservatives on Rochdale Council to debate the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) bid that will, if successful, see a congestion charge, or ‘toll tax’, introduced in Greater Manchester, was blocked by the ruling Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives had wanted to express concern that due to the current financial instability there is “a substantial risk that the scheme will go well over the estimated budget with costs falling into the lap of the council.” The Conservative motion went onto say: “The new charge could severely reduce the demand for homes around any congestion charging zone, consequently reducing house prices and creating unacceptable financial pressures, especially on some lower paid workers.”

In conclusion the Conservatives were to urge the Council to “reconsider its position on TIF and congestion charging and most certainly be cautious with out taxpayers money.”

The Lib Dems were not in the mood to debate prior to the referendum that will take place in December to decide if the ‘toll tax’ will be accepted by the people of the Borough. They tabled an amendment seeking to delay any debate until after the results are known, and using their majority forced through the amendment and the motion was adjourned.

Council Chief Executive Roger Ellis had explained to the Chamber that as a referendum was now to take place, there are legal restrictions on the council and the council must provide only neutral information, that did not however, he said, stop councillors right to exercise free speech and to debate the matter in the council chamber.

In a shocking revelation he also explained that Rochdale Council is not legally bound to accept the results of any referendum, that is, if the residents of the Borough rejected the ‘toll tax’ in the referendum, Rochdale Council could if they so choose, completely ignore that democratic voice, though Mr Ellis was at pains to point out that to do so would be “an extraordinary thing to do”.

Whilst debate based on the specific motion tabled by the Conservatives was not allowed, questions put forward by individual councillors on other ‘toll tax’ related matters in response to the Leader of the Council’s report to the Council were and included the question from Conservative Councillor Ashley Dearnley of how much public money is being spent to promote the TIF Bid Campaign ‘YES’ compared to the ‘VOTE NO’ campaign. Councillor Irene Davidson, deputising for the seriously ill leader of the council, Councillor Alan Taylor, raised eyebrows when she asserted confidently that no public money was being spent on the Yes campaign, adding that the £25,000 of Rochdale taxpayers money that had been earmarked for spending was to “pay to give advice via a helpline”! And yet the expenditure of this public money was agreed in response to a report that said, with particular reference to the congestion charge: “That will require a concentrated effort to win ‘hearts and minds’ and secure the widespread public and partnership support” – that makes the claim that public money is not being spent on the as part of a campaign to persuade people to vote yes disingenuous.

Moreover, Rochdale Council’s magazine has been used, in an example of blatant propaganda, to expound the so called virtues of the toll tax, and the magazine is of course paid for by public money, Rochdale council taxpayer’s money.

Chris Palmer of the Yes Campaign has contacted Rochdale Online and said: "We receive no public funding – all of our support, both financial and in kind, comes from our supporters."

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