Being a bit of a political geek, and having little to do in the evenings while Jas is living back down South, I wandered along to the Cabinet meeting of Rugby Borough Council this evening. Other than reporters, I think I was the only ‘civilian’ in the council chamber.
The meeting was a little confusing for anyone not already involved in the local politics. None of the councillors had name-plates that I could see, so I couldn’t tell at first who the Cabinet members were, who the opposition councillors were or who the council officers were.
Turns out that the cabinet sat around a table in the middle of the chamber, apart from the leader Cllr Humprey, so I could only see a few of their faces from my seat to one side.The Labour leader (Jim Shera) and Lib Dem leader (Jerry Roodhouse) had sent apologies for absense. All items that I saw were passed without any dissension (which is to be expected with a single-party cabinet). The only councillor who spoke who isn’t in the cabinet was (I think) Neil Sandison of the Lib Dems, who is from Eastlands, which is just over the road from where I live.
The main items (agenda items as numbered) that were discussed were:
5) Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) Playbuilder Funding
Seems that the government has given Rugby £200,000 to spend on play equipment. Five sites have been identified, with two as backups (because the funding is time-limited so if any projects fail over a year the money can’t be used). Cllr Sandison asked about he level of public consultation so far and whether the opportunity had been taken to get some money out of developers using a S106 agreement to augment the package – especially as one site was apparently right by a new development. In both cases the answers seem to be ‘not yet’.
7) Tenant Incentive Scheme
Like many councils, it seems Rugby has tried to encourage people who are in council-rented accomodation that is quite large to transfer into something smaller. Obviously, the main candidates are elderly people or couples in 3-4 bed houses who could go to a 1-2 bed bungalow or flat. The current scheme means that if they apply to transfer and are on benefits, they get £300. The scheme has been in place for 16 years without much change – and perhaps crucially, little publicity. The newly agreed scheme will be open to people not on benefits and will pay £500. It will also be monitored over the next six months, and presumably will get at least some publicity.Cllr Sandison’s questions included whether the Housing Department had conferred with the Housing Association.
9) Review of the Performance of the Council’s Preferred Partner Housing Associations
I thought that these were all called ‘Registered Social Landlords’ (RSL’s), but anyway. The report itself wasn’t really mentioned – basically it seemed that due to the problems of private developers at the present time, any RSLs which were not quite up to it would get a pass as new housing is still a priority. They also added Affinity Sutton which seems to be quite a large group (with a private company backing it) but which can use PFI to leverage funding for new development.
10-12) Sustainable Design and Construction Supplementary Planning Document; Affordable Housing Supplementary Planning Planning Document; Members Allowances 2008/09 – Amounts Claimed
For some reason, these were all taken together. The first two are at least similar (both about adoping new policies on planning, to encourage environmentally friendly development and housing that people on lower than average incomes can afford to buy/rent/part-buy). The third is arguably just a little topical at the moment, and concerns a totally different area.
Looking through the report, the actual allowances look reasonable (about £6,000 pa for a normal councillor, less than £10,000 for the Leader, £4-5,000 for the Cabinet member, less for committee chairs). Obviously of interest is the expenses.
The councillor with the highest claim is Neil Campbell (Con, Fosse) with £1460 in travel and petrol expenses. Fosse is a large sprawling rural area to the north west of Rugby, and he lives a little way away – on the other side of the M1 from the borough. He’s also on the Cabinet, which while it also gives him an extra £5138 a year, would also mean a good few more meetings than normal. Still, it’s more than twice the amount claimed by any other Borough Councillor.
Anyway, it’s hard to know whether it was more arcane than the meetings that I used to see at Crawley – a bit of clarity in labelling the actual cabinet would have helped, and a less, umm, relaxed and jovial, start might have made it look a bit more business-like.