A full council meeting of all 48 (minus 1 who has resigned) councillors at Ipswich Borough Council took place yesterday evening. I went along but I felt somewhat uncomfortable by the mauling which took place as Labour answered questions from my fellow Conservatives.
The leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr John Carnall, rightly tackled the leader of the Council, Cllr Ellesmere, on why the Executive Committee meeting was postponed on 23rd August. Some may say it was only a meeting so why all the fuss. Well, the Executive Committee is another term for the Cabinet and in a ‘Leader and Cabinet’ model which we have at the Borough Council, this Committee (which only consists of 8 councillors out of 48) is the only power base for elected members. It is here where all decisions on policy are made and this Committee must legally meet on a regular basis so for the meeting to be cancelled is an erosion of democracy and accountability. The reason for the cancellation was an administration error which meant reports were not ready in time. The leader assured the Council that he and the Chief Executive had addressed the shortcomings to prevent a repeat.
Cllr Carnall then asked how much it had cost to cancel the meeting. The figure – who knows how these things are worked out – came to £35. But Cllr Ellesmere pounced on the opportunity to highlight the forthcoming by-election (not yet officially called) which has been caused by Tory councillor Sarah Stokes resigning from the council. David Ellesmere estimates it will cost £10,000 to stage the by-election. Is that £10,000 spent by the political parties, £10,000 to be spent by the Council holding the by-election (manning polling stations, counting the votes etc)? Who knows where he plucked that figure from? Needless to say Paul Geater from the
Morning Evening Star swallowed the figure hook, line, and sinker and stated it as a fact in his column today (not online).
Embarrassingly for my party, Cllr Ellesmere also pointed out that Conservative Cllr Kym Stroedt had said in his diary in the
Morning Evening Star on Tuesday: “After a short break I head off to Grafton House to take part in a Conservative group meeting. It’s not long before realisation strikes that we don’t have the papers that we should have. Subsequently the meeting is postponed”, which caused the chamber to erupt in laughter. Cllr Kym Stroedt quickly informed the Council he had been misquoted, which no doubt he was. There is always a risk when Conservatives use a paper which has a patently left-wing agenda to convey a “diary” of thoughts to the electorate and on this occasion it has backfired.
Other Council Questions were on the problem of Street Drinking and what was being done to address the issue. This was a good question from Cllr Stroedt. Cllr Neil Macdonald, the Labour portfolio holder responsible for ‘Safer Ipswich’ claimed the evil Tories were driving people to drink. This was a gross trivialisation of addiction and mental health problems which are prevalent in street drinkers. Cllr Stroedt was not talking about people having a couple of glasses of wine at home after a hard day’s work – he was talking about people who through a medical condition were drinking on the streets during the day. Unfortunately, Cllr Stroedt did not tackle Cllr Macdonald’s comments in his supplementary question but it is not always easy to react quickly in the bear pit of a council chamber.
Cllr Tanya Maclure (and I declare an interest as she is my wife!) asked a good question to Labour’s Transport man, Cllr Phil Smart, on why one lane of the Star Lane gyratory had been closed during the Ipswich Maritime Festival last month. This, as you will see from a previous post caused gridlock in the town centre. Cllr Smart was asked if he had made the decision. The Labour Council’s transport chief said he had not made the decision and that he didn’t even know such a decision had been made until he also got caught up in the traffic that day. I’m sorry but this is ridiculous – who on earth is running the council? Elected members or officers? Obviously Labour are happy for unelected bureaucrats to run our town (but then most are probably Labour voters!).
The last item on the agenda was the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee Annual Report. As some of my readers may know, I was Chairman of this Committee during my last year as a councillor before I stepped down in May this year. I was humbled to hear kind words spoken about my chairmanship from all three parties, from the current Liberal Democrat Committee Chairman, Cllr Nigel Cheesman to Cllr Roger Fern from Labour and the Conservative Group Leader, Cllr John Carnall. I greatly appreciated their words of thanks.