Friday, 4 May 2012

And Here's Another Thing...

We had Overview and Scrutiny on Tuesday and the star of the show was an impressively controlled and collected Cllr Iris Johnston, talking about Housing. Thanks goes to the Council for sending me the Powerpoint slides (Cllr Jack Cohen, seeing the bright sunshine, closed all the curtains except for the one covering the public gallery...). 

The Cabinet-agreed Joint Venture on Housing in Cliftonville West is now being talked of as a "Collaboration", a looser arrangement. Clearly they are spooked by EKO and don't like the idea of this becoming an albatross wrapped around their neck. For the history of this issue, check here.

Cllr Ian Driver made the most of his reappearance at OSP by sharing his vision for the Panel, including "People's Choice" issues. Harrison had his moment with a rather rousing speech to "support your Councillor", part of a debate about encouraging young people to vote. Being the only young person in the Chamber aside from Cllr Will Scobie, it did feel a little strange seeing older people talking about how to attract more young politicians.

Since I'm on the subject of Will, yes, he's the Margate Mayor-elect. What's the problem? At some point in the future there was going to be a young Mayor so why not now? Bearing in mind what I said earlier about encouraging young people, surely this is a way of doing just that. Yeah, it might be a publicity stunt and if so, the public will see through it, but its in Labour's gift to do so and the Conservatives were in no position to stop it.

It seems a good bet that there will be a bid for more resources for OSP so that it can expand its work as a "critical friend". Harrison and Driver doing the double team on that one. I completely understand what they are saying and I think the Panel would agree with them were it not for, again, money matters. 


The real reason for this entry is to upload another part of the Full Council meeting from last month, the issue this time being the Member's Allowances Scheme. Not much was made of this at the time and no one seemed to notice, perhaps because of the debate a couple of hours previous. The fact the increase to Allowances is being referred to the Remuneration Panel is a side issue as its pretty likely to go through. The following is the action...

Chair (Doug Clark): Agenda item 18 – Members Allowance Scheme 2012/13. I move that the recommendation on paragraph 7.1.a of the report to be adopted, namely that the Council adopts the draft 2012/13 Members Allowances Scheme, as set out in Appendix 1 to the report, and that the scheme will be retrospectively implemented from April the 1st 2012. Will the Vice-Chairman please second?

Vice-Chair (Cllr Kay Dark): Second, Chairman.

Cllr Clive Hart: I’m happy to agree with that. I thought that I was gonna be doing that but never mind. OK Chairman, and I take that, I bow to you Chairman. But what I’d like to add to Chairman is during this year’s AGM of the Council,  that the Overview & Scrutiny Vice-Chair return to one post instead of two Vice-Chairman at £1600 whatever it is, one post at £3216 because when we agreed that original split of the posts to two Vice-Chairs, it was because that Committee was evenly distributed amongst the two Groups, it no longer exists, there is only need for one Vice Chair and I would like to make that amendment to take place after the AGM Chair.

Cllr Will Scobie: I was led to believe that under 7.1, we are being asked to decide on one of the options, I understand then you have presented the recommendation 7.1a, is that correct? Then I would like to propose an amendment on that because at the last Full Council meeting, we had a very active debate on the Allowance system for Councillors and while I still disagree about what was said about SRAs (Special Responsibility Allowances-JM) and the cuts, I do actually agree with some of the points by other Members at the time that we need an Allowance system that encourages more people to get involved. This point was articulated very well by Independent and Conservative Members and in particular, the point that we’ve not had a rise in the Basic Allowance for a number of years is crucial. This essentially means that instead of it staying the same, it has been decreasing in value year on year as inflation takes effect. At the moment CPI inflation is running at 3.5% and this is becoming apparent to everyone through increased petrol prices and everyday items. 

Therefore because of this point and comments made by Councillors at the last Full Council meeting, I would like to propose an amendment to the Members Allowance Scheme 2012/13 as stipulated under 7.1b. I would like to propose that we recommend to the East Kent Joint Independent Remuneration Panel that we have an increase in the Basic Allowance in line with current level of Consumer Price Index inflation. I make this for proposal with recommendations under 3.3. I was planning on reading them out but due to the time of the meeting I will just direct you to them and also to 6.3.1 which talks about the desire to get Councillors from a different background involved which I think is incredibly important, points that you all made at the last Full Council meeting. 

I do not feel with Allowances being decreased every year through inflation that these points from the agenda are being met and while there is never a good time to increase Allowances for public elected officials I agree with the comments of the last Full Council Meeting and truly feel the Allowances system needs a rehaul if we are to attract Councillors from more diverse backgrounds with different skills.

Cllr Richard Nicholson: I second Chair and reserve the right.

Cllr Chris Wells: Can I just seek the guidance of the Monitoring Officer. I thought particularly with regard to the Members allowance scheme there was a time limit after which you could not debate or put amendments or make changes to it. I thought that time limit was six months and that after those six months, I don’t believe that you can accept the amendment. Now if that’s so, obviously you have to made a decision, you have to take advice. But that is my understanding of the regulations concerning Members’ allowances.

Chair: The Legal Officer will give advice.

Harvey Patterson: Im not aware of that. The position with the scheme of allowances now is that they can be changed in year and can be made retrospectively. We are now in the new financial year and my advice to you is tonight that you make some kind of scheme even if its just simply a continuation of the 2011/12 scheme into 12/13 because otherwise, we wont be able to pay you next month. Of course we go to EKJIRP if that’s your, we go to the joint panel if that’s your decision tonight on the amendment, you’ll take advice from them, you’ll make a scheme you can make it retrospective, you’ll get backpaid but we won’t be able to pay you next month if you don’t make a scheme tonight.

Cllr Ken Gregory: Thank you Chairman. Well, I understand where Cllr Scobie is coming from, but we have no figures in front of us as to the cost to the Council or to the electorate and to my mind we should have a report on that before we make that decision. Im quite happy to go along with the recommendation in front of us here and then we’ll review it when we have the full figures, but without the full figures, we’d be absolutely stupid to vote for it.

Cllr Everitt: I do have some sympathy with what Cllr Gregory says. I did a quick calculation. A three and a half percent increase on the Basic Allowance, would by my calculation cost the Council £8545.

Cllr Bob Bayford: Yeah, thank you Chairman. You know, I have some sympathy with whats being proposed but again, it’s the method. I mean, we’ve sat here tonight, we’ve had Cllr Harts propose something on the hoof, Cllr Scobie proposed something on the hoof. I think we should actually be presented with [Interruption, Cllrs Campbell and Johnston audible] no, we’re talking about amendments to a scheme, an Allowance scheme which I believe. I think its too important a thing to actually just do on the nod at 22 minutes past 10 after a long evening [Video shows 3hr 20 mins-JM]. I would…I’d like to propose that in fact a full report is brought back with proper costings, with the amendment that Cllr Hart has talked about, so that we can consider it. I move.

Cllr Martin Wise: Thank you Mr Chairman. I’m not in favour of any increases to the Council’s expenditure than aren’t budgeted and planned for though it’s a very small amount. It sets a precedent. We have already, you may note, you are already paying for that 5% difference in the parking charges by using the Events Budget to pay for it and covering the Events budget with, yes Iris [Johnston] with the New Homes Bonus, which you might not have next year, so any additional expenditure is not welcome and I certainly don’t think that there’s a single member of the public in Thanet who would support any increase whatsoever. Thank you.

Harvey Patterson: Chairman, one way to take this forward is, as again I urge you to make a scheme tonight and what is within budget without any doubt is a continuation of the current scheme into this year, that is budgeted for. That does not prevent Council from also deciding to consult the independent remuneration panel on a 3.5% increase. Their advice will come back to this Council and you can amend your scheme in year if you want to do it at that stage. So if you are happy to take the amendment on that basis, then you can move this forward tonight.

Cllr Will Scobie: Chairman, I am very happy to take the amendment in, with what regards Mr Patterson has just said.

Chair: Do you accept that?

Cllr Richard Nicholson:…and reserve the right. [Chair: Would you like to speak then?] There’s no good time to deal with this because if we carry on as before then next financial year is the same as the financial year before, as same as before, before, before and before because we got ourselves into this quandary. This amendment is asking to the Council, while continuing with the present system, is to ask the Joint Remuneration Panel to come back with suggestions. We’re not tying anyone down to anything. When the report comes back, and Im not making this part of any amendment, that then senior members whether its Leaders, Group Chairs, Chief Whips, sit down and look at it and consider it so that we can come here with a way forward because we cant throw this out and next year it will be the same and we’ll keep it the same and we’ll keep it the same. We’ll all be long in our graves before we actually deal with it. We’ve all been at fault in not dealing with the Basic Allowance. 

I think its now actually time to grasp the nettle and move on and don’t be ashamed of receiving a remuneration for doing the work you do within the community and to help people. I hope you’ll accept that this should be sent to the Joint Remuneration Panel. Let’s see what they say. When it comes back, let’s talk about it and not in this bear pit. I think it was Ken Clarke today in his meeting down in Brighton said it was like herding cats into a bag. That would be a doddle compared to some of the things that go on here. So let’s consider this after the report comes back, out of the formality of this, this Chamber. Let’s consider it, and see if we can come forward with some suggestions that everyone can support and we can move forward. And I do hope you can support it. We’re not trying to bounce anyone.

Chair: Cllr Scobie, you said an amendment and I understand it’s an addition. Will you accept that? So is that…no this is purely recommend that they have increase the basic salary in line with the current consumer price index.

HP: [whispering] Chairman, Leader, that can be dealt with at the Annual Meeting, why make changes at the last?

Chair: …and as regards, Leader, Leader, whooo, Leader. Now as regards the comments that you made about the two Vice-Chairs etc, that can be done at the next AGM, quite easily, I’m advised. So is everybody clear on what we’re voting on? Yes or No? [Conservatives saying no] What would you like to know?

HP:  Chairman, you are voting, the Chairman proposed effectively the continuation of the current scheme and accepted an amendment that we also then make a proposal to the Joint Independent Remuneration Panel on an increase[ Cllr Wells: “That’s not what the Chairman said” of the Basic Allowance in line with the increase to the CPI.

Cllr Chris Wells. That’s not what you said. You said that it was an addition. Now if it’s an amendment we can take it as a separate vote first. If it’s an addition, can we take it as a separate vote aside from the other recommendations?

Cllr David Green: The amendment has been accepted by the original…

Chair: Why can’t we go to the vote? What’s the problem? [Campbell:” There is no problem”,  Officer- It’s an addition to the original…] There is no problems… [HP: It’s been accepted by the mover so it’s…]It’s been accepted by the mover. I’m going to put it to the vote. Those in favour please show.

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