Rugby BC Full Council 21 July 2009

Naff all on the telly this evening, so off to the Town Hall to see what they’re up to…

I had a little chat with the other person in the public gallery, who wasn’t happy that there were bits of the meeting that would be dealt with in private (the decisions relating to the Ken Marriott Leisure Centre – whether to extend the management contract with DC Leisure, and a business case for repair/refurbishment/rebuild). She was firm that all debates should be held in public. Of course the results will be made public if the council decide to do anything, and there are reasons why contractual information is not released until a firm decision is made.

The first bit of business was a presentation to Cllr Ron Ravenhall. It wasn’t immediately clear what it was, but I think he was being made a Freeman of the Borough. It was not explained why (length of service? a particular contribution?), and when he gave his speech it was all about how nice the actual vellum scroll was. Bizarre.

I’m not really much for these things, and I get that from my dad. When he was a councillor he voted against introducing such things for Crawley Borough, and when I was on, I didn’t support ‘long service awards’. Basically, we should all be ‘Freemen and Freewomen of the Borough’, and councillors should do the job for reasons other than a plaudit or an automatic gong just for hanging around for x years.

There was a written question, from Cllr O’Rourke (Labour), asking for information about how many contracts there were with Service Level Agreements (SLAs), and how often they were measured.

The response was that there were lots of them, and so it would take a lot of effort to answer the question. But yeah, basically there are lots and they are reviewed based on the contract and before any extension or renewal.

This is not actually very encouraging. I’m sure that the council does have a lot of contracts with suppliers and partners, in which there are targets set and which the Council. But even if there are too many to describe verbally, surely somehow the Council should know what they are? Shouldn’t they? And if not, rather than whine about how it would be a lot of effort, they should at least have a plan to gather the information over time?

Nahhh. I mean, it’s only taxpayers’ money.

We also had the Leader’s annual Speech to the Council, on ‘Vision 2026’. Much of it was about the aspirations for a nicer town (and surrounding area) and a more responsive council. There were several areas covered as priorities:

  • Access to the Council: last year they had planned to have a ‘One Stop Shop’ set up in new premises. However, as it was to be funded by selling property (the ‘Lawn’ and the ‘Retreat’ ?), the slump has made the land unsaleable., so it couldn’t happen. There has been work to improve contact in the Town Hall, but the main concern has been problems with answering the phones.
  • Housing: As mentioned before, the Housing Service is undergoing a programme of improvement. A whole host of new policies and strategies have been set up. It’s too early to say whether they will work, although the latest inspection from the Audit Commission said that the prospects for improvement were good.I was pleasantly surprised to see that 100 units of Affordable Social Housing had been built in the past year (exceeding a target of 82).
  • In Leisure, there was mention of the Art Centre & Museum getting awards, new projects for Play equipment funded from the National Lottery, and the Viaduct cycleway project
  • The Environment: The new recycling collection scheme started in April, and appears to be a success (I have no complaints about it, either). There is a target to enforce 150 ‘environmental crimes’ over the next year – mainly I suppose fly-tipping, which seems to be an issue in the rural areas of the Borough
  • Value For Money: A moan about the government grants (which council doesn’t), and also of course the problem of £3 million stuck in an Icelandic Bank (euphemistically described as ‘a loss of investment income’ presents a challenge to this. A 2.4% rise in Council Tax was achieved partly through making redundancies, but we a promised that services will not suffer.

Cllr Ravenhall was the first to respond. He said the idea of an overreaching speech about all of the council’s activities was a good idea and should happen every year (it happened last year, but apparently maybe he didn’t notice it). He also described it as ‘spin-less’. Hmm. I’m not sure that Cllr Ravenhall was listening to this year’s speech properly either….

His Lib Dem Colleague, Cllr Sandison, raised questions about how to diversify the economy away from just ‘sheds for logistics’. He also warned that development could be fueled by builder’s greed rather than local needs, and that the market town ‘feel’ could be threatened if Rugby ends up with too many national retail chains in the town centre.

Labour councillors Ish Mistry and Jim Shera both wanted to see more detail, with targets and for next year’s speech to include more about what had been achieved against target. Cllr Shera also mentioned disappearing allotments, the problems of road congestion on the air quality, and asked how many people were on the Housing Register.

There wasn’t much more debate after that, as most items went through on the nod, and of course the two of us in the public gallery had to leave before the items on the Leisure Centre came up.

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