A Conservative councillor called comments from an Ashfield Independents representative “repulsive and morally repugnant” after he referenced coal mine closures while describing Nottinghamshire County Council’s approach to spending.
The exchange took place during a Children and Young People’s Committee Meeting on Monday ( 17 January 17)
The council’s Finance Committee approved four new homes last week, including a property in Saville Road, Skegby, as one of the new two-bed houses.
The new plans come after Minster View children’s home in Southwell was permanently closed by the council because it was judged to be an outdated facility.
County Councillor Andy Meakin (Ashfield Ind) questioned the suitability of the Saville Road site during the meeting, saying the average house price there is more than the average for Sutton-in-Ashfield.
Referencing the committee’s overspend, he added: “It’s like you’re partying like 1999 – but the reality is that it’s 1984 and the pits have just closed.”
Councillor Matt Barney (Con) said he found Cllr Meakin’s comments “disgusting”.
Cllr Meakin said: “I appreciate that we need to house vulnerable children in areas where they feel safe. We all heard comments made by senior Conservative councillors last year that we need to place children in posh areas – to show them how the other half live.
“Saville Close is populated by elderly residents, yes – there is a nearby primary school – but the nearest secondary school is two miles away. There are very few shops, the town centre of Sutton-in-Ashfield is too far away and the public transport links are few and far between.
“What due diligence do we do to ensure that the locations for our children’s homes are bought at the best price but are also located in areas where the infrastructure can support them?”
Councillor Matt Barney (Con) responded: “To make political comments and relate the miners, class and wealth structures to these most vulnerable and needy kids, I find really quite repulsive and morally repugnant.
“I speak so passionately because what matters is this authority puts our arms of love and care around each one of these individuals.
“This is not a party political issue and to toss it into this agenda and politicise it I find repulsive.
“The best is what I seek for those children, not the lowest common denominator property value in whatever street in whatever town.”
Michelle Welsh (Lab) added: “Whilst I understand what we are saying about being cost effective, the most important thing is finding somewhere safe for them to live and where they can be part of that community.
“We have got think about the bigger picture too. These children should be an absolute priority to us.”
Councillor Roger Jackson (Con) added that buying the property is an investment and “is not dead money”.
Laurence Jones, Service Director, Commissioning and Resources, said: “Even if we have a home that is for two children, often that means we need additional space for offices for staff and sometimes sleeping rooms.
“The size of the homes and planning considerations does mean that these are often larger properties and that is necessary for the model.
“We are limited in Nottinghamshire as to those homes particularly within the geographical area with the children coming into care, which is often disproportionately the west of the county.”
Councillors unanimously voted in favour of the recommendations to disestablish the posts from Minster View children’s home and to agree new posts for future children’s homes in the county.