The curiously changed question

Tonight was another Cabinet meeting at Rugby Borough Council, and another chance for the public to ask questions. I sent in a question last week which was a little long, with some pre-amble, but was essentially asking how much had actually been saved through the new Management arrangements, including the cost of the new external review that was approved at the last Full Council as well as the changes in officers’ salaries and the Leader’s allowance. Additionally, how appropriate the figure given in the report presented to councillors when they decided were.

I’d been busy over the weekend, so didn’t check my email until yesterday. Seems that my question was not deemed suitable, having been passed to Andrew Gabbitas. A new version was suggested, which simply asked for the net savings.

I replied to say that I thought it inappropriate for one of the officers who would be covered by the question (he being the author of the report and one of the two officers most likely to be in line for improved salaries), but asked them to add a further part about the figures in the report.

The answer was given that the net saving is £115,000. Which is good news for Craig Humphrey and the Council, and higher than they thought. I’m not sure quite how they arrive at that figure given that the previous Chief Executive was on £104,000 (the amount quoted in reports) and the Leader has had an allowance increase of £6,000. It’s possible that pension contributions account for the discrepancy, but it may be that they have estimated a higher salary for a new Chief Executive or something.

However, because I forgot to insist on asking about the cost of an external review by consultants, again it’s not exactly clear what the true savings will be for this year.

13 Responses to “The curiously changed question”

  1. Anon Says:

    I have reliably been informed that Mr Humphrey’s business hasn’t filed accounts, and thus is trading unlawfully. At previous hearings, I had asked a written question to be posed as to whether this would in effect mean that he’d breached the Councillor’s Code of Conduct; specifically 1.3 (General Obligations) at point ‘e’; which states:

    A councillor must not conduct himself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing his office or authority into disrepute

    This question was also ruled out by Mr Gabbitas – who, of course materially benefits from the status quo being maintained.

    I remain of the mind that this point is pertinent to Mr Humphrey’s position as it reflects upon his ability to conduct himself equitably within an administrative function.

    Maybe I’m just a little more ‘picky’ with regards to the credentials of those empowered to shape our future than others within the Town Hall?

  2. Danivon Says:

    I’m not sure that missing accounts would be enough to make a company be trading ‘unlawfully’. It would depend on what kind of company it was, how long the accounts were overdue, who to and whether any action had been taken.

    I’m not sure that his business would be relevant to his position either.

    However, if you did indeed try to get that question asked, and it was vetoed by Andrew Gabbitas, then I would share a concern how the officer who has been promoted as a result of the restructure is also able to control what questions the public can or cannot ask.

    Rugby is already unusually difficult in terms of the public being able to ask questions at Full Council, or speak at a Planning meeting.

  3. Anon Says:

    According to the Companies House website, Sir, and I quote here directly: ‘Failure to file accounts is a separate, criminal offence’

    As such, I do believe this issue does bear revelance to point 1.3.e within the Code of Conduct document. It is certainly a question that has a right to bear scrutiny.

    But for this question – and others of which I am aware – to be ruled out by an officer who appears to be a financial beneficiary of the whole process does look a profound conflict.

    Alas, the Labour councillors appear unwilling or incapable of matching the aggression of certain Tories at key meetings, and therefore are culpable in this unholy bandwagon rolling ever further forward….

    Thees ‘savings’ issue being a case in point. Anyone with key skills in public debate and a few facts at their finger-tips would make mincemeat of Humphrey, Hunt et al within any forum; but sadly, it’s simply not happening

  4. PLH Says:

    Tory numbers = 28(27)
    Labour numbers = 11

    No matter how good in debate you are the numbers don’t lie. Labour cannot win at this time and it’s up to the press and subsequent elections.

  5. Danivon Says:

    Anon – Speeding is a criminal offence, but it only incurs a fine usually and is not really enough to breach a Code of Conduct. I think filing late accounts would at most only be a fine, rather than rendering a company unlawful.

    I’m not sure that I want the opposition councillors to be more ‘aggressive’. Calmly incisive would be good. It’s true, as PLH says, that they can’t win a vote (if the LDs joined them it would still be 27-20 to the Tories), but then again votes aren’t the only thing.

    Of course, most times reporters aren’t there, or many members of the public, so any rhetoric could fall on deaf ears anyway.

  6. PLH Says:

    But the questions that needs answering before we draw comparisons is this: will Nuneaton’s Leader expect a pay rise and take on “ambassadorial duties”, will the report be debated in private and will critics of the report get their doors knocked by the political group proposing it?

  7. Danivon Says:

    I should hope he won’t. From the article:

    Coun Harvey said: “It has been decided not to have a chief executive for six months, while we try to take in the consequences of the government’s spending review. My own role, as council leader will stay exactly as it is now.

    If his role is exactly the same, then his allowance should not be uprated as if he’s doing more. The other difference between this and Rugby seems to be that it’s still a temporary measure. As long as Nuneaton commits to a proper consultation next year, and the solution is arrived at democratically, they look far better than we do still.

  8. PLH Says:

    Well done on getting page 3 of the Rugby Observer. I am pleased that the local press are prepared to report the dubious goings on down at the Town Hall.

  9. Danivon Says:

    Yeah, although my gf says the picture makes me look like a bit of a looney.

    Nowadays, I copy the Observer in on a question to the council (and to any correspondence arising from their editing & vetting process). Eventually they should see the stupidity of trying to control what the public can say.

  10. Council defends censorship « The middle of the line Says:

    […] Comments Danivon on The curiously changed que…PLH on The curiously changed que…mrswormwood on Another bit of […]

  11. mrswormwood Says:

    (after a quick google) your gf is right.

  12. PLH Says:

    So we’re not allowed to ask difficult questions of the Leader of the Council but when him and his Tory cronies are getting a tough time in the press they are at liberty to spend nearly 5,000 taxpayer provided pounds on a report to try and clear his name.

    We’re in an environment of cuts but Tories still need public money to defend themselves from scrutiny.

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