I’ve not been able to get to many meetings at the Town Hall lately, what with work and other stuff getting in the way, but I did remember to go to the one this evening.
As the meeting followed shortly after the death of Cllr Ron Ravenhall, the beginning was given over to statements from the Mayor and the leaders of each political group. Jerry Roodhouse, speaking for Ron’s Liberal Democrats, brought thanks from his widow, and pointed out that the family has explicitly requested a private funeral. Instead, council members were asked to donate to Ron’s chosen charities: Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support.
After the tributes, Mayor Kam Kaur led a minute’s silence.
Then the meeting turned to business. First came written questions from councillors, Jerry Roodhouse (Lib Dem) asked Leigh Hunt (Con, cabinet member on housing) about progress on a previously announced plan to replace storage radiators (to which a written response was provided to councillors – but not in the papers in the public gallery). He asked a second question about the council’s ongoing Sheltered Housing Review. The response was that the consultants were still working on it and a the council were awaiting the latest draft. Cllr Roodhouse came back with a verbal supplementary question on how much had the review cost so far. Cllr Hunt did not know. The only other question came from Richard Dodd (Lib Dem) to David Wright (Con, cabinet member for ‘Resources and Corporate Governance’) about an increased incidence in flu among council employees and whether more could be done to encourage people to take the seasonal flu vaccine.
The rest of the meeting was fairly quick, as there were no major decisions to be taken, and everything came via Cabinet so was going to be supported by the Tory majority anyway. There was some financial stuff (the detail of which was not in the order papers in the public gallery apart from where pots of money were to be moved around between budgets) including an extension to the “moving in grant” to encourage companies to open business in empty retail units in the town centre – allocating up to £25,000.
There was also a report on consultations on changing the structure of the council (whether to have a directly elected mayor or retain the existing cabinet system). The decision was taken to hold public consultation after the May 2010 elections, and that councillors, not officers, would decide the wording of consultation documents. It was thought that there is little appetite for change among the public, so the consultation will be ‘as economical as possible’. It was also decided not to consult on whether to go from annual elections of a third of councillors to all out elections every four years, but to stick with the current set-up.
The last item was on the local Licensing policy on gambling. This has to be reviewed every three years, and basically the Cabinet wanted to continue with the current policy and Statement of principles. Tom Mahoney (Lab) had done some checking on the national guidelines and found that the council’s policy does not include anything on the position that Licensees must promote socially responsible gambling and should be involved in helping to identify and treat gamblers with major problems. Mark Williams (Con, Vice-Chair of Licensing) said that the council weren’t aware of any problems, but after Claire Edwards (Lab) spoke in support of Cllr Mahoney’s position and getting the nod from council leader Craig Humphrey, Cllr Williams said that it would be ‘taken under advisement’.
In terms of public participation, the council meetings are very poor. I was the only person in the public gallery (apart from the council guy who is there to look after the public), and the press didn’t seem to have turned up either. It seems that there is no public ‘Question Time’ at Full Council, and because there seems to be little debate between councillors, there’s not much scrutiny going on. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the Tories are in the majority and hold the Cabinet, so they pretty much decide what’s going to happen. But even in Cabinet meetings I didn’t notice much discussion between the leadership – only queries and suggestions coming from opposition councillors who have no vote seemed to provoke anything. The public can ask questions at Cabinet, so I have just sent off something for the next one in January to ask about public participation.