Dedicated High Peak Borough councillors enjoyed a brief moment of levity during an important virtual remote zoom-style budget meeting as large virtual cartoon balloons unwittingly lightened the mood as they surfaced across the screen of the council’s bemused executive director.
The Derbyshire labour-controlled council was discussing the important matter of its General Fund Budget for the 2024-25 financial year and other financial matters when the virtual images of the cartoon balloons suddenly appeared floating upwards across the screen of Executive Director Mark Trillo lifting the mood and giving rise to some much welcome humour.
Council Leader Anthony McKeown had just explained that an expected, proposed council tax increase of 2.99per cent and a 7.7per cent housing rent increase was necessary to meet Government expectations.
But the council tax and the council housing rent proposals were not the only things to go up at this particular local authority meeting on February 8 as a different kind of ‘party’ politics lightened the atmosphere.
Soon after council officer Martin Owen had assured the council that its financial position was sustainable, Cllr Fiona Sloman said she too had been persuaded by that view just before the balloon went up.
Quick-witted Cllr Sloman said: “Why is Mark throwing balloons in the air? Is it because I have agreed to something?”
As councillors and officers began laughing at the uplifting moment of different coloured balloons floating across Mr Trillo’s computer screen image, Cllr Sloman joked: “It’s a bit distracting.”
The Council Leader, Cllr McKeown, interjected and tried to explain what was happening to a bemused Mr Trillo who appeared unaware of the coloured party balloons on his screen and he appeared to have no explanation about why they were repeatedly flying upwards in front of his face.
Cllr McKeown said: “Mr Trillo is looking slightly confused but what we can see on our end is that your picture keeps coming up with balloons and changing colour.”
As councillors continued to control their laughter, Cllr Sloman questioned whether Mr Trillo might be cheering her on from the sidelines.
She said: “I don’t know if you are cheering me on – that’s what I am thinking.”
Mr Trillo replied: “I would always do that, Cllr Sloman. The computer obviously realises what I am thinking.”
It was not clear during the meeting if the red, yellow, green and purple balloons represented any particular party political colours.
About ten minutes after the first balloon interruption, Cllr Sloman was just about to comment on a further matter when a further set of balloons flew across an unwitting Mr Trillo’s screen.
Cllr Sloman said: “God, he’s doing it again. Every time I put it up he’s doing it again. Every time I speak he puts his balloons up.”
The Executive councillors showed great composure and professionalism after the brief, humorous interruptions and quickly came back down to earth and returned to the important matter of the General Fund Budget and other financial matters.
Without further interruption, they approved the proposed General Fund Budget, the proposed revised Medium-Term Financial Plan for 2024-25 to 27-28, the proposed Capital Strategy, new fees and charges, and the proposed procurement plan for 2024-25, as well as the proposed new council tax and Housing Revenue Account charges.
The Executive also approved a recommended plan to impose a 100per cent premium upon owners of second homes from April, 1 2024, and to impose a 100per cent premium upon owners of empty homes from April 1, 2025, to allow a 12-month notice for the latter property owners.
Deputy Council Leader, Damien Greenhalgh, said he now hoped fellow councillors at the Full Council will agree with the Executive and support the proposed budget plans.
It is not expected that there will be party balloons at the pending High Peak Borough Council’s Full Council meeting on February 21.