Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Budgeting Scrutiny

A very important Overview & Scrutiny meeting held last night with some food for thought.

The RNLI presentation highlighted the problems that the RNLI was having getting to the water at the moment due to local traffic blocking access. It also outlined its future plans. The Panel passed a motion calling on the relevant Cabinet Member to discuss the problems on access to the water with KCC and to report back.

Next up was a controversial discussion about EKO. Controversial for a couple of reasons. Firstly there was debate about whether all this information should be “restricted” and thus not available for the public to read (I made a point about this in my last post). Basically the argument in favour of restriction is that EKO is a joint venture and therefore TDC cannot unilaterally release the information without the agreement of KCC. For all the talk of the public need to see this restricted information, as the only person in the public gallery during that item, I didn’t feel that strongly about its release. This sort of information will come out in its own time and as was pointed out very clearly, the information put to Members were not the final version. Cllr Ian Driver raised some eyebrows by predicting the information would make its way to the press “by tomorrow morning” though made it clear he wasn't saying he was about to leak restricted information.

The more important issue brought up was over the future of EKO itself. Labour Members questioned whether there should be a future for EKO given the apparent lack of results for the substantial investment poured into it. The Membership Agreement comes up for review after 5 years. A motion was put (this wording is subject to change as the minutes are published) to say that the review should be brought forward, with a view towards TDC withdrawing from it, to “disinvest” as one Cllr put it. It was a 7-7 split with the Chair voting with the motion. This one has a long way to go…

The budget debate carried on very much as it did during the Cabinet meeting. There was some more explanation as to where the money is coming from and what is expected for the future which I found useful in framing the debate that’s been taking place. I’m not going to say too much more right now as I want to dedicate a post to it next week. That said, we had perhaps a little too enlightening a comment by Cllr Driver that “nothing turns me on more than a nice floral display”.

The motion for a Working Group about Electoral Registration was passed but with a reduced membership from 7 members to 5 instead. One point that came out of this was that the use of time through the meeting had been too heavy during the EKO and budget debates which meant that very little time was left to discuss the remainder of the agenda. I agree. It did seem to be at times a one Member meeting and that however entertaining that Member was, there were too many speeches rather than questions.

The discussion about Individual Cabinet Member Decisions aka Urgent Decisions barely happened, which is a shame because there is a real debate to be had about this. A Working Group was rejected in favour of a comprehensive report. Good call.

There are a lot of Working Groups already in existence and there needs to be proper consideration of alternative forms of scrutiny other than a Working Group. The heavy workload on those in Scrutiny has meant that there was little real choice about having one and for example with Urgent Decisions, the motion they took was in effect the only one really available.

Next meetings are Planning Committee and Full Council next week. Im hoping to do previews for both. We will see...


Anonymous said...

What the hell is EKO?
We're not all into jargon you know!

Michael Child said...

6.54 I had a dialogue of sorts with the council about this one some time ago which may help you form some of impression, there is rather a lot of it I’m afraid, see

Ian Driver said...

Reliable sources tell me that the confidential documents which were withheld from the press and public, are now safely in the hands in the media. It is a scandal that the Council tried to supress information about a public body which controls £10million of public (i.e. yours and mine) assets. Whoever leaked this information is a hero/ heroine and I would like to shake his/ her hand.

James Maskell said...

Sorry for the jargon there, in what was a pretty hastily put together entry. I thought of Michael when blogging this knowing he'd jump in with more detail.

The public do have a right to know about how their money is spent, and that information was going to go out. But right now was not the right time.

As was made clear during the meeting, that information was incomplete and there was serious doubt as to whether it was legal for that information to be released by one party without the agreement of the other.

Surely its best to wait a while for a fuller picture to be put together before pulling the plug on it?

Ian Driver said...

James I belive that EKO does not have a future and that we should now be developing an exit strategy. It might take a couple of years to do this but in the process we should try to maximise the £10 million assets to the beneefit of local people. This should be done openely and transparently

James Maskell said...

Having not seen the "pink papers", I don't know enough to be able to make a call on whether EKO should continue, but definitely some hard questions need to be asked of the management and you certainly did that on Tuesday. I agree that if things are to be ended they should be done openly. My issue is really one of timing of the release of the "pink papers", rather than principle.