Councillors behaving badly

2018-03-24 14.51.28It was the Commercial & Investment Committee (C&ICom) yesterday. It’s a new committee and it’s not a happy one. Votes generally go along party lines, the Tory whip is at its most powerful, and the Chair routinely votes. There’s not much effort to forge consensus.

I told my colleagues in advance that I was likely to be fairly disruptive during the meeting and it started with the minutes of the last meeting. I complained that my comment about lack of process with respect to the ‘sale of portfolio of properties to Cambridgeshire Housing and Investment Company’ had not been minuted. However because it seemed that it would come up later in the meeting, albeit in private session, I agreed to make my point then.

I then complained about the decision regarding Cambridgeshire Catering & Cleaning Company. Although I had supported the decision I was appalled by the press release that went out on the Monday after the meeting. I’ve already blogged about it (click here) and I also spoke about it at Full Council earlier this week. Anyway I made my point again but, not surprisingly, the committee’s Chair did not agree with me.

We then had an agenda item without a paper before going into private session. Of course we know what the rules are and I can’t tell you what was discussed or what I said but I can tell you about one decision because we went public before it was made and anyway the agenda paper, but not the appendix, is already in the public domain.

The agenda item was a follow on from the item of the last meeting which I had complained about viz  SALE OF A PORTFOLIO OF PROPERTIES TO THIS LAND (formerly Cambridgeshire Housing and Investment Company).

This Land is the name CCC’s branding consultants came up with for the Cambridgeshire Housing & Investment Company. They also helped the company publish its Business plan 2018 (see photo above) which is physically similar to the books you buy for very young children: thick cardboard pages which are difficult to tear and lots of pictures. The front cover is over 7mm thick. Think of it what you will.

It’s been set up for some good reasons. It will be able to build an ethos and capability which is not held back by CCC and it will be a way to shield CCC housing development activity from government ‘right to buy’ rules. There’s another less good but understandable reason. In order for This Land to be able to take ownership of land (by buying it from CCC) CCC will lend it money and because This Land has no credit history it can charge it a relatively high rate of interest. This interest can then be used to subsidise CCC’s revenue account. Simple really.

So C&ICom was deciding to transfer some £40million or so to This Land and I was, and still am, of the opinion that there is no clear audit trail to demonstrate that due process has been followed. I’m sure that everything is legit but there’s big money involved and we need to be careful. Already there have been cases of This Land changing the rules after transfer and of some transfers not having been clear to C&ICom.

The independence of This Land is a further reason why we’ve got to be extra careful. It is supposed to be imbued with CCC values. After all CCC owns 100% of it. However it also has a profit and growth mandate and these can clash. We don’t want This Land pursuing developments which favour profit and growth at the expense of values.

I had intended to propose a motion to defer the transfer by one month to enable a better paper to be written which explicitly confirmed that due process had been followed and any limits which CCC wished to place of This Land with respect to the development of specific properties. But I can’t tell you if I did because if I did it was when we were still in private session. When we went public again I voted against the recommendation in the paper which, not surprisingly, was carried. However I did get a commitment that we would ‘do it right next time’.

There was one victory for common sense later on. There was a proposal to establish a lottery with most of the proceeds going to ‘good causes’. That’s OK but maybe a distraction which CCC does not need. However buried in the paper were words to the effect that CCC would take 10% of the revenue and that this would be used to ‘offset existing grants’. That’s cynical and it was agreed to reword this as ‘supplement existing grants’. I’m not sure if the Tories understood the significance of agreeing to that change but they nonetheless supported it. Given that I supported the establishment of the lottery.

There were some pretty poor papers and the meeting went on for well over three hours. It wasn’t a great advertisement for innformed and participative democracy.

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