Friday, 24 August 2012

Fear and Loathing in Thanet

More important than the Cabinet meeting last night is the news about the Margate Town Team. Having met a number of the people involved with it, their withdrawal places serious doubt on the ability of the Town Team to deliver. Stockport appears to be having a similar problem with the Portas Pilot. The involvement of Portas and the associated TV crew was always going to lead to issues and as for politics, well, it is Thanet. Bullying is unacceptable. Let’s hope that those not involved in the Town Team will still contribute to the regeneration efforts.

Moving onto the Cabinet agenda, it was striking how Standards complaints still underlay debate. I predict some more may appear now after last night’s misbehaviour, shouting and talk of stuff that really shouldn’t have been said. I think Clive Hart may regret announcing that he was threatened in his office by the official Independent Group. Cabinet was not the place for that nor was his shouting match with Tom King who was understandably angry about what he felt was the blocking of his right to speak to Cabinet.

It all kicked off when King questioned whether Worrow was a “fit and proper person” to be Diversity Champion and mentioned Worrow’s involvement in the Minnis Pig affair. Harts argument that this motion wasn’t for personal criticism of Worrow, which when you consider it’s a no confidence vote is bewildering. King stormed out of the meeting shouting “Shambles” which is pretty much on the money. Hart then made a speech about how he won’t work with those who make threats against him and was the reason he worked with TIG instead, though he denies he’s in coalition with them.

It’s interesting to note that John Worrow’s role of Diversity Champion is now being described in its proper title of “Member Lead”, though I must clarify Fenner’s comment about it being a new role. Cllrs Gideon and Wise have held that position before and I suspect many others have too. Fenner said that outside information had been sought regarding the remit of this role.  Would be useful to see what direction this role is going.

Moving on, Cabinet decided to fix up three skateparks rather than having a single larger one which Fenner described as “elitist”. Johnston claimed funding for this had already been identified. Too soon to be saying it’s definitely on which is risky but something which some readers might take from this. It’s not signed and sealed yet.

Housing Intervention was confirmed though it was never in doubt. Bit of an argument about the split between private and social housing but that’s been a bit of a theme through debate elsewhere on it so not a big surprise. To correct the record though, when OSP asked for the project to look for a greater proportion of social housing, it was an ambition, not a commitment. The Displacement Strategy will include Westgate.

The Budget update shows a bit of overspending due to Beach Cleaning but this is only the first quarter and included the sewage leak so it’s understandable.

Thanet Life is the place to go for comment on the “pink” motions on Coach House and Royal Sands though again Standards came into the Coach House issue when Johnston waved her morality wand about declaring interests. She’s put in a complaint about apparent non declarations in past years. That’s nice but not really the sort of thing to air in Cabinet. We got the hint though…subtle…

Monday, 13 August 2012

Better Late Than Never

Late report on last weeks Overview and Scrutiny meeting I’m afraid, but a lot went on.

In the preamble Cllr Driver explained his resignation from Welfare Reform Group. As I said before, why he was on the Group to begin with is strange when he clearly had a conflict of interest. Another TIG Member will replace him.

A petition on the Lymington Rd micropub was rejected as it’s a Planning matter. I’m assuming this is the one Simon Moores took on. 

Driver also announced that mobile phones will be allowed to be used in OSP meetings, obviously because of the mess involving Tony Flaig. An Officer surprisingly said that their only issue is of the “relaying and recording of proceedings” and that Twittering is OK, even in the public gallery. There really needs to be a clear statement from the Council on what the rules are because there’s a very serious risk of having more than one set of rules on mobile use in the Chamber, depending on what the meeting is, which can lead to confusion. 

On Scrutiny Arrangements, curiously Driver started by promoting the Option I was talking about in the preview, but was quickly turned back onto the Labour hymn-sheet of Option A, the OSP Max option. A report will come before OSP on 23rd October, setting out different models of this for consideration. The aim seems to be having 6 sub-Groups under each Cabinet Portfolio and retaining the existing Working Parties I would imagine to the end of the year when they would be absorbed into these new Cabinet Groups.  These Cabinet Groups would not be able to form new sub-Groups. The aim appears to be that with it mirroring Portfolios, it can do more policy development. Apparently…

While the direction selected was Option A, it wasn’t by a vote but by a general assumption that it was the way to go. No decision as such was made. There was significant disagreement with selecting Option A from the Conservatives who seemed to lean more towards Option B. It was confirmed that next year there will be an increase in OSP support of 0.5 FTE. This is the first I’ve heard of it but it fits into my expectation that any increase to OSP support will be small. 

Moving onto Housing Intervention where Members were unimpressed by the lack of information provided, particularly in relation to the effect on the housing market and possible displacement of people through this.  This led to two adjournments, both stepping over the expected timescale. I was impressed by the diplomatic ability of TDC’s Legal Eagle, Harvey Pattinson, in sorting out a deal on a motion to be passed by OSP. He went back and forth from the presenting Officer to Driver and Harrison negotiating a path through and after a lot of deliberation they managed to sort out a motion which was perhaps a little weaker than Driver wanted as main proposer but it’s something for Cabinet to consider at its next meeting.

The Panel agreed to set up another sub-Group on fees at Minnis Bay Day Centre.

To finish on the East Kent NHS Hospital Trust etc sub-Group, the Chairmanship was deadlocked (both Cllrs Wells and Harrison were unable to get a majority), so the decision reverted to the Panel itself. With an Alliance majority, Harrison was carried easily. Talk is the consultation has been pushed right back now to December, if not the New Year, so this forcing of a vote via OSP was unnecessary. It’s possible that this Group will not have enough time to report back with meaningful recommendations before the end of the Council year. More you think about it, the more absurd this situation looks.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

How Far Should OSP Go?

If you haven’t already read it, I posted last night a look at the various TDC Overview sub-Groups which will be approved at tonight’s Overview meeting kicking off at 7pm in the Council Chamber tonight. 

After much waiting, Scrutiny Arrangements will be debated tonight at Overview. Four options on the table and yet for all the reports attached to the item it’s a fairly simple judgement to be made. How far do Overview want to go with the programme they’ve set out and how far is Cabinet going to help in making that a reality?

OSP will want to bid for as much as they want, naturally, but asking for numbers of specially employed staff to help with research is likely to find it getting in Cabinet's way, especially with the Budget in the forefront of their minds and isn’t going to happen. My feeling is that ultimately there will be some kind of compromise along the manner of Option B, but OSP might feel bolder. Certainly at the last OSP meeting Driver seemed to be quietly confident about this one so perhaps I'm missing something. Problem here is that as much as its about money, its also about the Panel considering how much it can take on, this being a point made by a number of Members.

Challenging Cabinet for pots of money wont be easy, should they go for it. With the Food Safety Plan the hope was for extra staff 3.5 FTEs and Cabinet went with less, I believe 1.5. I really can’t see OSP being placed as a higher priority than food safety in Thanet.  Given the Labour talk of an increased Council Tax a couple of weeks back in the local papers, OSP's going to have to put together a pretty smart argument to persuade serious spending. Perhaps we can fund some staff from the apprenticeships scheme?

A petition on Manston is up next, where out of way over 2500 signatories less than a third count! A moot point months late. Night flights are not gonna happen any time soon.

Housing Intervention will have its moment too, where we get to see a bit more flesh. Still a fair way to go here before giving judgement but the explanation on the collaboration is reassuring. Loose but as commented before, they wont want to go too deep here with legal agreements and contracts.

Monday, 6 August 2012

TDC Overview - Breaking It Down

Overview & Scrutiny meeting tomorrow and one of the items is about the various sub-Groups of the Panel. Bit of a mixed bunch. Here’s my thoughts in this first part of the preview…

One for the Manston readers is the Airport Working Party, chaired by Cllr Gideon (Con). Ive mentioned her before in OSP reports and she’s a good pick. Other Members are Alexandrou, Gibson, Harrison (all Labour), Bruce, Marson (Con) , Grove (Ind) and Worrow (TIG). On their Work programme is going to be a review of the 106 agreement, a look at the regional airport situation and considering any future night flight proposals, though that last one isn’t likely to go very far since I doubt a proposal will come this year. The key for this Party is to establish how Manston can be successful despite the Council’s decision to block any form of night flights. Looking at the membership, this might prove tricky.

Crime & Disorder Reduction Partnership Working Party came out with a good report in the last Council year and this one looks to build on that work. Chaired by Cllr Wiltshire (Con) and supported by Edwards, Green, Hibbert (all Lab), M Tomlinson, Coleman-Cooke (Con), King (Ind) and Cohen (TIG) their job is to follow up on the Community Safety Action Plan agreed earlier this year and its priorities (anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, substance misuse and violent crime). This also includes considering housing management. The relevant Cabinet Member is expected to speak before this Party and this one could bear some fruit.

This next one needs some explanation…

Welfare Reform Task & Finish Group on the basis of 4 of the 6 members attending was to be chaired by Cllr Driver and he was elected as Chair but when he informed the Working Party of his employment at Citizen’s Advice Bureau (which is public knowledge, having been quoted in the Gazette more than once) he agreed to step down at tomorrow’s OSP meeting. He was, however, allowed to stay for the meeting to help steer the agreement of terms of reference because the Monitoring Officer said so. This doesn’t smell right at all. He was clearly biased and shouldn’t have been there, even to steer the terms of reference which were extended to discuss the impact on Council finances. Basically everything is put off till late October, so good luck getting anything useful for TDC. Other Members are Cllrs Campbell, Gibson (Lab), Moores, Sullivan (Con) and King (Ind).

Corporate Improvement & Budget Working Party to be Chaired by Cllr Binks and supported by Campbell, Will Scobie (Lab), Wise (Con), Grove (Ind) and Worrow (TIG). A wide remit here looking at the Budget and Corporate Plan. Might get results but I’m not sure. The Corporate Plan is flimsy and the Budget debate is going to be far sharper than last years, so agreement might prove harder to achieve.

On Shared Services Working Party, Cllr Hornus became Chair but if attendance is anything to judge by, this could be a tough one to follow.  Two Members absent and one substituted out of a membership of six. Wait and see…

The Trauma Review one has has already had a presentation from East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust Chief Stuart Bain. It hasn't elected a Chair yet.

Electoral Registration Task & Finish Party carries on from last year which got some good work done. You might recall Will Scobie was the face of this though Cllr Cohen was the Chair. It will have to get its skates on and this is something the membership is aware of given elections aren't far away.

There is potentially another one to add here on Minnis Bay Day Centre, looking into the fees being charged for it but that’s on the agenda for this OSP meeting.