“Jobs for the boys” at Essex?

It has been announced that three Essex County Council Cabinet members have either resigned or been replaced.  Those going are Cllr Anne Naylor, Cllr Roger Walters and Cllr John Jowers.

There are now ten cabinet members and eleven deputy cabinet members but the changes really throw up some important issues.

Council Leader David Finch has a deputy cabinet member to his position which is very strange as surely that role belongs to the Deputy Leader Kevin Bentley, who himself has two deputies of his own.

With 21 members of the Conservative party now either a Cabinet Member or a Deputy exactly half of their elected members are involved in Cabinet and receiving enhanced allowances paid on top of the standard allowance for Councillors (Full Member £34,378; Deputy Member £13,374).

One further point, of the 21 Full Members or Deputy Members only 5 are women.

All positions are listed below.

Portfolio title
Cabinet Member
Deputy Cabinet Member
Leader
Cllr David Finch
Cllr Anthony Jackson
Deputy Leader and portfolio holder for Economic Growth, Infrastructure, Waste and Recycling
Cllr Kevin Bentley
Cllr Penny Channer
Cllr Malcolm Buckley
Finance
Cllr John Spence
Cllr Valerie Metcalfe
Highways and Transportation
Cllr Rodney Bass
Cllr Ray Howard
Highways Maintenance and Small Scheme Delivery
Cllr Eddie Johnson
Transformation and Corporate & Traded Services
Cllr Derrick Louis
 
Adult Social Care, Public Health and Wellbeing
Cllr Anne Brown
Cllr Terry Cutmore
Cllr Malcolm Maddocks
Education and lifelong learning
Cllr Ray Gooding
Cllr Sue Lissimore
Children and Families
Cllr Dick Madden
Cllr Ricki Gadsby
Libraries, Communities and Planning
Cllr Roger Hirst
Cllr Kay Twitchen
Cllr Mick Page
 

Planned Work to the Watery Lane Junction with Hullbridge Road

I brought up the number of accidents at this spot just under a year ago due to the number of accidents, officially (that means reported to the Police) there have been five recent accidents at the site.

At the June meeting of the Local Highways Panel the work was approved and will now be going ahead.  The actual changes will be quite small but include

  • Refresh the line markings on the road
  • Add an informal domed island at the give way marking in Watery Lane (partly to deter drivers turning right into Watery Lane from cutting across the junction)
  • Re-install a short stretch of kerbing by the pumping station to improve the carriageway definition
  • Cut back the vegetation by the pumping station
  •  Remove part of the existing hatching to highlight the turning point

Hopefully this work should make a difference to the safety of this junction.

If anyone believes that there are any other accident spots in Hullbridge/Hockley, or elsewhere in the District, please let me know as I can look into them and bring them to the Highways Panel for consideration.

Rochford Council vote to gag the opposition

At the Council meeting held on Tuesday 29 July the Conservative Administration pushed through a motion removing the right of Councillors to refer decisions made by perhaps only a cabinet member to the Full Council.

This decision is a massive blow to democracy and is reported in today’s Echo newspaper

Echo 31 July 2014

Echo 31 July 2014

The Green party objected to this motion and the Group to which we belong (Green & Rochford District Residents) spoke strongly against this diminution of democracy and accountability with both Cllr Michael Hoy and Group Leader Cllr John Mason making impassioned speeches against.

In fact most of the opposition made very powerful speeches refuting the reasoning behind the motion with Cllr Toby Mountain pointing out the hypocrisy present in the Conservative motion with some of those putting their name to the motion actually having given a contrary point of view to him privately.

It is also worth mentioning that on the night 7 Conservatives failed to turn up for the meeting and they will have a hard time explaining to their residents why they were not there.

The Speech from Cllr Michael Hoy is reproduced below.

I will be voting against this motion tonight because, as a great believer in democracy and accountability, I see this motion as striking at the heart of both of those ideals.

As Thomas Paine said

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”
― Thomas Paine

I say to those members now who fail to vote against this motion, you will not be trusted.

The motion as drafted severely restricts democracy and the accountability of this Council and goes against the principle outlined in the forward of our Constitution which says:

“The Constitution sets out how the Council operates, how decisions are made and the procedures followed to ensure that these are efficient, transparent and accountable to local people.”

And in Article 1 of the Constitution it says the Purposes of the Constitution includes

“to create a powerful and effective means of holding decision-makers to public account;”

The motion in my view will reduce transparency and accountability of decisions and make for a badly run Council, it removes one of those key tools which provides for accountability, the referral.   This is a motion seemingly designed to prevent the opposition from being a check and balance to the administration’s cabinet system, a check which has been rarely used but which is there to provide an examination of the administrations decisions: to make sure they are made in accordance with the Councils policy and financial framework and that they are legally compliant.

The justification for the removal of this power can be found In the final paragraph where there is a mention of the cost of referral’s and the significant delay they allegedly cause. Referral’s happen very rarely as I have already said in fact I have looked back and the last time, before tonight, that I can see a decision being referred is October 2012.  On this basis I cannot see that the process is being abused and the business of the Council being particularly delayed.

However if this motion is passed tonight I have concerns over the catch-all description of paragraph 15 which covers referral’s to both the Council and the Review Committee and I seek assurances from our legal officer that the supporting wording of the first paragraph does have the effect of restricting the motion only to referral’s to the Full Council by three Councillors.

I will finish with one more quote, from someone who will perhaps appeal to the movers of this motion.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Winston Churchill

Please have the courage to listen and either withdraw this motion or vote against.

The day after the night before – District Council Meeting

I have left it a day to reflect on last nights meeting before Commenting on it.  This is not an analysis of the detailed proceedings but a view of the general proceedings.

Looking at the results it can appear as a triumph for the ruling Conservatives, they won the votes on the night with parking charges being increased, defeating all four referrals by the opposition parties, ignoring amendments put forward by members, wining their own motion to ban future referrals to the Council and not even answering the questions put forward by members of the public.

However all the votes were narrower than the Tories would have expected with many of their group not attending the meeting (disappointingly failing to attend so they can say to residents they weren’t there, this is the same as voting for as far as I’m concerned).  Also there was the honourable exception of Cllr Jo McPherson who voted against her party’s whip on minimum floor areas.

Members of the public attended with a very good turnout of at least 15 residents from Hullbridge plus many others, and they have now seen how the Conservative majority work.  They force a whipped party to vote for policies regardless of the arguments put by the opposition, very few Conservatives speak beyond the Portfolio Holders and even then not all of them are willing to.  Most members of the opposition spoke, many of them with passion, giving good presentations that the Council Leader, Cllr Cutmore, had no argument against except bluster.

It is important for members of the public to come to these meetings, it unsettles the Conservatives and Cllr Cutmore does get nervous with a gallery watching him so please continue and keep attending these meetings.

Sometimes the process must seem painfully slow to members of the public, half an hour discussing iPads for instance, but we as opposition Councillors only get a Council meeting 5 times a year where these matters can be brought up so it can seem like disproportionate time is spent on less important subjects but we do not have a say anywhere else but this meeting.

Tomorrows District Council meeting

Fellow Councillors have written about tomorrow nights Council meeting which has a very full Agenda which can be read here.

Onlinefocus has outlined some of the items and also here about the outrage against a Conservative motion designed to restrict checks against the power of the Administration by removing the ability of Councillors to call in decisions made by the Cabinet system to proper debate in the Council Chamber.  This motion reads as follows.

 

MOTION ON NOTICE

1.1 The Proper Officer reports that, pursuant to Council Procedure Rule 13.1, the following motion has been received from Cllrs T G Cutmore; Mrs C E Roe; K H Hudson; D Merrick; I H Ward; M R Carter; M J Steptoe; Mrs L A Butcher; Mrs M H Spencer; Mrs G A Lucas-Gill; Mrs J E McPherson; M Maddocks; C G Seagers; K J Gordon; S P Smith; Mrs A V Hale; Mrs C A Weston; R R Dray; Mrs J A Mockford and B T Hazlewood:-

‘That the referred up facility within the Constitution be removed (paragraph 15 commencing on page 4.43 refers).’   The signatories to the motion have provided the following supporting wording:-

In addition to the call-in arrangement available to all District Councils by virtue of the Overview and Scrutiny function, this Council has operated a separate arrangement whereby any three Members of the Council can refer an Executive decision to Full Council. The referral up facility introduces particular issues for the business of the Authority. Whilst the Constitution indicates that referral should only be utilised in exceptional circumstances, the definition of this is open to interpretation. Additionally, the Constitution does not state that a reason for referral needs to be given although, understandably, a reason would be appropriate so that Members are aware of the circumstances of a referral.

In that by far the majority of all Executive decisions could potentially be referred up, the mechanism is capable of significantly impacting the business of the Council. Where an item is referred there may be a number of weeks

The motion is designed purely to restrict democracy and the accountability of the Council and goes against the guiding principles of the Council stating in the forward about the Constitution:

“… how decisions are made and the procedures followed to ensure that these are efficient, transparent and accountable to local people.”

The motion in our view will reduce transparency and accountability of decision and make for a badly run Council.  It looks as though most of the opposition Councillors are against it however and although, at present, it seems likely the Conservatives will be under a whip not to disagree it will be interesting to see if any of them have the courage to vote against.

 

Next Neighbourhood Action Panel Confirmed

After a long break Hullbridge is at last getting the neighbourhood Action Panels back.

Hullbridge Neighbourhood Action Panel

Date: 31st July 2014 19:00 – 20:00
Where: *venue to be confirmed – likely to be*
Hullbridge Community Centre,
Pooles Lane,
Hullbridge.

SS5 6PA

Extra Info: THIS IS NOT A POLICE MEETING but officers will be in attendance. The Neighbourhood Action Panel is a quarterly meeting for anyone living or working in Hullbridge to attend and highlight issues that directly affect the area. The meeting is open for any member of the public to attend and share their comments and concerns. Please advise us of any particular requirements you have, or of any other arrangements we should make for you, to ensure that you can fully participate in the meeting.
Contact: Email: hullbridgenpt@essex.pnn.police.uk
Email: clerk@hullbridgepc.co.uk

The Review Committee

After the elections this year myself and Diane formed a “Group” on Rochford District Council with John & Christine Mason.  This made us the largest opposition Group and meant that we could nominate the Chairman of the important Review Committee.  The Review Committee is there to check the work, policies and spending of the Council and can be an important check on it.  At the Council meeting in June I was duly elected as Chairman.

I have decided to write a regular spot around this and try to encourage as many people as possible to come to the meetings, as with most Council meetings they are open to the public, but the public rarely attend.  This meeting in particular opens up the Council and you can see Council Officers as well as the Conservative Cabinet members being questioned in-depth by the committee members.

We have started to set the Work Plan, you can see it in detail here (we have made some changes since then but it broadly hasn’t changed) with some of the main items we are looking at being

  • Building Control
  • ICT Contract
  • Car Parking Charges
  • Council Budget (this has been moved to 2 December)
  • Dog Fouling
  • Highway Maintenance

Our next full meeting is on 9 September, but before then there will be other meetings, some of which have to be in private due to commercially sensitive information being discussed, but some are in Public such as the Treasury Management Sub-Committee which is meeting on 15 July at the Civic Suite in Rayleigh.

Please come along to the meetings and obviously if you think that there is anything that we should be looking at which we aren’t just let me know.