A summer’s day but it’s not going to be a fun council meeting

2017-07-18 13.53.31 editIt’s the second meeting of the new era and we’ve got a big item on the agenda, members’ allowances, for which there’s an outrageous Tory amendment to a modest (but generous) and rational recommendation from the Independent Review Panel (IRP). There are also some silly changes to the constitution and a Tory wrecking amendment to a perfectly reasonable motion on the A10. And then there’s the matter of the chair of the Health & Wellbeing Board …

We start with prayers from two rabbis and then race through announcements, public questions (there is one) and petitions (there are none).

The question is from Anthony Carpen (aka Puffles) about digitisation of the County’s archives. He says he’s speaking as a local historian and is asking that the County completes its its digitisation program, improves its communication and does a better job of exploit this valuable asset base. Note that Anthony’s alter ego, the magic dragon, was not present. He is said to be still recovering from the shock of the recent general election.

The first substantive item is the treasury management report for the last quarter of 2016/17 which is just a rubber stamp of a recommendation from the General Purposes Committee. Then it’s a Network Rail order to agree that a response to a Network Rail Order can be delegated to the Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee.

Now for the big one: allowances. First we have to agree to ‘receive the report’. Some confusion but then we all agree to do that. Then the Tories move their amendment which rejects the IRP report, which recommends increasing the basic allowance from about £7K to a little over £8K, and substitutes their own recommendation which would increase it to over £10K in order to align CCC’s allowance with that of the average of all county councils. Tories say the IRP recommendations are flawed and that they, the Tories, have simply been objective and even-handed in taking the UK average approach.

Labour speak against. They say it’s wrong in these days of service cuts and that it also disproportionately rewards Tories with special responsibility allowances (SRAs).

Lib Dems express disgust at the way that the IRP recommendations have been ignored and, again, at the way that services have been cut.

There’s also reference made to the new ‘community champions’ who will get £5K according to the Tory amendment. These are new positions which are difficult to understand.

One of the Tory attack dogs says he won’t support the amendment and won’t take any increase approved. Good for him but he’s the only Tory who speaks out against the proposal.

I spoke and asked if this ‘average’ was a new political philosophy, an aspiration or ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel’. You can see my speech at https://youtu.be/O58flI2eDJ8?t=3253

The debate was also interesting because it was the occasion of the first speech from Cllr Meschini, councillor for King’s Hedges but resident of Orchard Park. She made the plain and simple point that the amendment was simply an exercise in people with power taking money because they could. That’s about right!

A couple of Tories speak in favour and do their best to justify the amendment. They talk of ‘difficult decision’ which I reckon is another ‘last refuge of the scoundrel’ and the need for a ‘better system’. Well we’ve got one … it’s called the IRP.

Then there’s a difficulty. Because the original motion was moved by the Chair there’s no-one to sum up on the amendment as would normally happen. For some reason legal advice allows the Tory group leader who moved the amendment to sum up as though the original motion was his own.

We go to the vote … amendment carried 32 (Tories) to 25 with 1 abstention. Now the motion as amended: 32 to 24 and 1. Who’s gone home early? It seems that the voting system didn’t recognise one person so a note is to be added to the minutes.

Now we move onto Constitution and Ethics stuff. First item is about procurement rules. Lib Dems abstain because of the impact on good governance. Vote carried 41 to 2 with 14 abstentions.

Second is terms of reference for Audit & Accounts: approved by acclamation.

Third is constitutional changes and could be as heated as the allowances item earlier. There are two amendments: one from the Tories which is accepted and one from the Lib Dems deleting two new committees and the proposed return to 1030 meetings, and proposing to reinstate the annual reports of committees.

I speak in favour of the Lib Dem proposals. I don’t see why we need both E&ECom and Commercial & Investment, they could easily be combined, and I do not support the idea of Community Champions which underpin the existence of the Communities & Partnerships Committee.

There are several comments from Lib Dems and Labour about the council now being effectively run by a Tory cabinet, it’s being compared, perhaps unfairly, to North Korea. But then perhaps not.

Lots of debate about the 1030 start. It seems to be a choice between people needing to take a full day off to attend council meetings and the problem which Fenland councillors have to drive home in the evening.

So it’s another double vote. First on the Lib Dem amendment which is lost 18 to 33 with 7 abstentions (Labour). Now the unamended motion which is carried 33 (Tories) to 26 (everybody else).

Item 10 is completely different. Council is required to respond to a consultation on the possible takeover of the Fire Authority by the Police & Crime Commissioner. There’s a perception that the latter is a bit of a bully and that this is just empire building. The Fire Authority is 100% negative about the proposal and this reflects the mood of the council. This means that, although the motion is to simply note and delegate, there’s a motion to specifically express an opinion against the take over but to prefer what’s been described as option 2.

Harmony all over. Amendment and amended motion approved by acclamation.

Item 11 is to note a new chair of the Health Com and to appoint one for the Health & Wellbeing Board. They are both Tory nominations of course but because they did not come up with the second name soon enough it’s got to be approved by Council. We’re going to have a go at getting me elected … unlikely to be successful because we’d need 5 or 6 Tories to disobey the whip but we’ll have a bit of fun.

They vote for me first I get 22 (Lib Dems and Labour). Tory’s nominee is Peter Topping. He gets 33 with the Tories voting as a block.

I’m really negative about this. The H&WB is potentially the most influential non-decision making committee on which the Council serves. It could really have great influence over the health of the county well beyond what the Health Com can do. But now it’s in the hands of someone who’s already busy with senior positions at South Cambs and on the Combined Authority and has no particular health experience. This will result in the H&WB being (continuing to be?) simply a sleepy talking shop with minimal ambition. I’m sorry, it could do much better.

Back to normal council business: a motion. It’s a motion that proposes we don’t wait for the multiple A10 reports to be completed but we look at some short term options that can deliver results quickly. That’s consistent with the excellent quality management principle of ‘do the obvious straight away’.

There’s a Tory wrecking amendment. It’s wrecking because it simply negates the motion which should be done by voting against the motion.

We vote on the amendment: carried 41 to 13. Now the amended motion carried 41 for with 13 abstentions. Sad.

That’s it for me as I slip out for a meeting with the new transport lead of the Greater Cambridge Partnership (formerly the City Deal). I’ll be reporting that elsewhere but suffice it to say here that I found him a breath of fresh air, he certainly listened to my concerns regarding Histon & Impington and it was useful to bend his ear whilst he’s relatively new on the job.

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