AS leader of Southampton’s City Council he has to answer tough questions about his decisions.
But faced with a group of elderly voters wanting to hear how the council’s budget would affect them, Cllr Richard Williams remained tight-lipped.
Although details of massive cuts and hikes in charges was only an hour from being released, Cllr Williams told a meeting of Southampton Pensioners’ Forum on Monday that he was not allowed to tell them for legal reasons. This was despite the fact that council staff and unions had already been informed ahead of the 5pm press embargo put on the story by the council.
It meant those who attended the pensioners’ forum, which finished at 4pm, only found out they would be 12 per cent worse off from the cuts when they got home.
Secretary Don Harper said Cllr Williams’ position “made a mockery of the meeting”.
“I was a bit surprised. It was the budget we wanted to know about.
“Either he genuinely believed that he wasn’t allowed to say anything or he didn’t want to talk about it.
Whichever it was, it made a mockery of the meeting. I didn’t get out of it what I wanted.
“You could definitely say that the members all had different views about the budget. No wonder he didn’t want to talk about it.
“We always meet in November time. If they haven’t set the budget, then it gives us the opportunity to put forward ideas,” added Mr Harper. “Either he’s been very clever or he genuinely did not know what the rules are.”
In the meeting, Tory councillor Royston Smith argued twice that the forum should hear how the budget would affect them but Cllr Williams stuck to his guns.
A spokesman for Southampton City Council said that while the embargo was not a legal restriction for Cllr Williams, he was following the process.
Cllr Williams told the Daily Echo he had been advised there was an embargo on the budget until 5pm and said he would have been criticised for breaking it.
“I was told by legal officers this was the protocol. If I overstated it, I apologise,” he said.
He promised to visit the pensioners’ forum again before the budget is set in February to hear their concerns and offered them the council chamber for meetings.