Friday, 20 January 2012

Labouring over Budget, Conservative Scrutiny

Labour got its Budget, the Conservatives got their way over Ian Driver's lost seat and Margate FC fans got a serious case of arse ache… Good to see Tony Flaig standing sentry in the Chamber last night. Always nice to have fellow bloggers appearing. Even better to see a full house in the Chamber.

The public gallery was the vast majority Margate FC fans so logic would dictate that Margate FCs lease item should really come first. Instead the agenda was followed strictly and the fans had to wait considerable time before their time came. I see no reason why mercy couldn’t have been shown there and the item bunged up the agenda, after the A&E item. We knew the Budget was going to take a good while anyway.

First up the A&E presentation from Stuart Bain. There was concern from Members about the distance and how this would impact upon the effective treatment of those patients being rushed to Ashford. Best question was the sobering one from Cllr M Tomlinson asking whether he would have survived his cardiac arrest years ago with this new system.

That one done with general agreement about it, we moved onto the meat of the meet starting with the Leader’s Report, or not, as it was withdrawn from the agenda. Chair Cllr Doug Clark decided that as this was an Extraordinary Council meeting, it wasn’t necessary.

Then onto the Budget debate. This debate dragged on for an hour and 40 minutes so bear with me. First up the starting statements which were in essence the same speeches I’ve heard in past meetings. The Red Rose had her say about how money should be used to help the most vulnerable and brought in a bunch of documents including a 2001 anti-poverty strategy, the Portas report and others (Iris?) for others to read though throwing them on the table in front was a tad overly-dramatic. 

Hart made a truly grandstanding speech. Very old style Labour speaking directly to his own Group rather than the Conservatives, including a comment that people were being “hoodwinked by the Big Society game”. This I will definitely come back to in a future blog. Cllrs Harrison, Fenner and Poole continued this Socialist theme as expected with attacks over “Tory bankers” and comments about whether private or public money was better.

The Conservatives in response argued that there is real concern about “top-slicing” and therefore the money should be kept as a reserve in order to fill a possible funding gap. Cllr Gideon again made a very good point that civic pride isn’t always about fundraising. The Conservatives proposed an amendment to go back to the original budget. Labour tried to have it thrown out as they didn’t have the document on them even though they had to have read it at some point when coming up with their own changes to it. Eventually the Chief Exec listed the differences of which every single one had already been talked about in previous debates.

The amendment was defeated and the meeting was to move onto the next item until another amendment was proposed to redirect the £185,000 being used from the New Homes Bonus fund to go towards services for vulnerable people, unemployed and wider community. This one didn’t really have much traction and was defeated after some sharp debate, revolved around advice given on whether the NHB could be used to pay for someone to be employed. Cllr Wise being accused of recording the meeting on his phone by Cllr Poole. In fact he was looking for a message relating to that topic. Yes, that was the sort of behaviour last night…

Some comments were made regarding the subsidising of EKO. I missed that section, so I hope a Councillor will fill me in obviously bearing in mind the rules about restricted info. Along with that I’d love to know what NHB money had already been spent by the Conservatives [19 Hawley Square bought from Orbit for £75k - living nearby, I definitely agree with that decision. Difference is that the money can be recouped with its eventual sale].

In the end Labour got their Budget passed, and the Margate FC fans were able to have their moment. A lot of debate over who/what was to blame for the delay in dealing with the leases. We’ve seen the arguments online so I won’t bore you with them. Margate FC’s press release gives the results which now return to Cabinet (as the decision makers) for final sign off. It was stated during the meeting that an offer had been made to Cllr Binks to work with the Labour leadership in helping with this. Whether this cross party working is a sign of the future, it remains to be seen.

I know fans really want to see the 125 year lease, seeing that without it the development cannot go ahead. I’ve said before and I still think it’s the case that once a first lease is granted and the thing built, it’s extremely unlikely that TDC would refuse a lease again on the site. That’s why I think that the length of the lease is perhaps a red herring.

The final item of what to do with a problem like Ian. Labour proposed as expected to lose a Member in Licensing, the Conservatives proposed Overview and Scrutiny. Cllr King made the best contribution as you’d expect from the OSP Chair, arguing that given Labour has the Chair of the Council and the Cabinet, the Opposition should have the lead on Scrutiny to balance it. This was supplemented by Cllr Bayford’s point that it should be an “effective watchdog”. Cllr Johnston made the point that voting is all too often along Party lines, which while true, is not exactly groundbreaking political analysis. When it came to the vote, there was surprise when Labour failed to get a majority of the Independents to back them. The Conservatives now have a 7-6-1 lead on Overview which spices things up, providing a counter-weight to the Cabinet.

I’d be remissed if I didn’t talk about Cllr Worrow, an issue I’ve deliberately avoided comment on recently. With John’s blog disappearing along with what was said about the NTCA and its membership, what was said in the past month is just that. I fully understand that this may well be a lull before another storm and if it re-emerges I will deal with it then. I hope readers will respect what I say and treat Worrow as they would any other Councillor. What’s done is done.


DrM. said...

So why does the club need a 125 year lease James? That's the question which remains unanswered.

Put another way, can you imagine a Travelodge hotel existing in 125 years? If not then why not a normal shorter rolling lease under the landlord and tenant act?

It's all about leveraging land value and 125 years is essentially a freehold; money in the bank, which is why searching questions have to be asked in the public interest as this is public land.

James Maskell said...

I agree with the idea of a shorter rolling lease, which is the point Ive been making in previous blogs. You'll find no argument with me about it here.

Cllr. Mike Harrison said...

The problem with giving a lease of any length to anyone and then allowing them to build on the land is that once a building is up thats it,, it cant be returned to open space or only at a prohibitive cost so effectivly it is a freehold sale.
Insofar as making Margate FC supporters waitat least a great many more people saw the budget being created and the 'debate' on it, they also heard the presentation from the NHS Trust.
As all of these people would be Thanet Residents and as such will be affected, is it not better that they hear these things rather than our usual audience of two men, one dog and a couple of bloggers.

DrM. said...

Mike is right of course in regard to the equivalent freehold of 'gifting' public land to the Football club over a long period of time. But what happens to that public land if the club or the hotel cease trading in the future? This is why the terms of the lease and it's length and conditions are so important.

Michael Child said...

Thanks for going to the trouble of noting all this and posting it James, it is interesting to those of us who can’t go to meetings, with a bit of luck the council will be putting the videos of them online again, eventually.

On the subject of leases, I suppose the longest ones the council produced recently were the Pleasurama ones, 199 years with no asset disposal process, so it is my guess that this area is a lot more flexible than one would first imagine.

I suppose spending about £1 on events and flowers for every £1,000 the council spends on everything else isn’t so bad, I would guess that come the summer having no events would make the council a tad unpopular. Perhaps if the Conservatives regain power before then they will reverse this but I rather doubt it.

One always has to remember that the council is mostly funded by council tax and business rates and for the people who actually pay, flowers and events are one of the few tangible benefits from the council, I am of course excluding the things that they have to do.

Anonymous said...

Good to hear our illustrious leader, Cllr. Hart, is speaking out on the Big Scoiety and has his colleagues support over bankers. That should make those folk in Westminster quake in their boots and change course.

Not sure how it progresses the more mundane business of Thanet District Council, but at least the Labour members have their fingers on the pulse, or should that be mouths in gear.

I suppose it is good training for when they become MPs. Giggles uncontrollably at the thought.

SteveP said...

The granting of a 125yr lease would be a step in the wrong direction entirely, too much deception already should make all concerned very wary and have more than one alarm bell ringing.
The land is after all still public open land, it just happens to have a football pitch on it, if MFC were to fold tomorrow it could be returned back to parkland very quickly, but this is simply not the case if a dirty great hotel is built.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the permission to treat Worrow as we would any other councillor, James. That seems like a licence to give him shit along with the rest.

James Maskell said...

I would expect no less :) I meant don't treat him especially badly because of what was said over Christmas and the New Year.

Anonymous said...

12.42 James when you play in the big boys league then members must expect a few hard knocks, if they can't stand the heat they should get out, there is alimit to the number of times one can change sides and allegiance.