Shock, horror, Labour have done something I agree with in Ipswich: they have moved the Full Council meetings back to the grand surroundings of the Town Hall Council Chamber overlooking the Cornhill.
So it looks like the council are taking the market back. they say a change is as good as a rest. Lets hope so.
— Ipswich Market (@ipswichmarket) May 29, 2012
Cllr Rawlingson took a defensive stance and ruled the Area Committees were “working reasonably well” and in typical Keith-style he got a tad angry and said the last Committee meeting WAS advertised on the Council’s website. Yes, it was – just not on the South East Area Committee page! Area Committees were brought in to try and bring decision-making closer to the public but they do the complete opposite by keeping residents at arms length, with a barrier (literally, there is a long table!) between Councillors and residents at the meetings with only one slot available for residents to put their hand up and ask a question. Straight out of the Stalinist text book!
One of the most interesting topics raised was by Cllr Judy Terry who challenged Labour’s Culture and Leisure chief, Cllr Bryony Rudkin, on the delays to the Crown Pools swimming pool improvements. It has recently been revealed the contractor has had problems with the tiles and many have had to be re-fitted. Cllr Terry asked who was going to pay for the additional work: the contractor or the council taxpayer? Unsurprisingly, Cllr Rudkin did not have an answer and suggested there were “many lessons to be learned” from the way the project has been managed. That was almost attack on their beloved officers!
Cllr Rudkin also childishly said her Labour administration would also be trying to learn from good examples of council project management which took place 8 or 10 years ago – conveniently before the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was formed in 2004.
Next up was Tory Shadow Housing Portfolio Holder Cllr Richard Pope who laid into Labour housing supremo Cllr John Mowles with a question on refurbishment contracts for council-owned homes. Cllr Pope asked: “Why is it that priority for refurbishment is not given to the homes of the most vulnerable and elderly residents?” Cllr Mowles could not give an answer but told us the Council regularly holds discussions with its contractors. Hardly reassuring to residents I am sure.
Cllr Pope then quipped: “My next question is simpler so hopefully we will get an answer!”, which sparked laughter throughout the chamber. His supplementary asked Cllr Mowles if council house building in Ipswich was now possible because of changes by the Coalition Government to local government housing finances and should he now write to Housing Minister Grant Shapps MP thanking him for making his “dreams come true”. Cllr Mowles dodged the question and instead took a swipe at Tory MP for Ipswich, Ben Gummer, accusing Mr Gummer of saying council house building was a “vanity project”. It didn’t take long before this was denied on Twitter by Ipswich’s MP:
As a result of a mumbled question (which I have to admit I didn’t catch) from Liberal Democrat Cllr Inga Lockington to Cllr Jones, the Northern Fringe – the council-owned land between Ipswich and Westerfield – raised it’s head. Cllr Jones gleefully told Cllr Lockington that the Council had a legal principle to develop the Northern Fringe for housing as stated in the Council’s Local Development Framework (LDF). Cllr Lockington should know considering the previous Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration she was part of pushed through the LDF! I personally think building houses on the Northern Fringe would be a great step forward for Ipswich as long as the house builders are carefully chosen so poor quality housing stock which was built on the Ravenswood estate is not repeated. But considering the need to have 40% affordable housing, I can see the same mistake happening again.
Mrs Sally Wainman finished off Council Questions with – you guessed it – a question on Broomhill Pool where she brazenly asked for two million pounds. Cllr Rudkin’s answer was spoken so fast I didn’t catch all of it but needless to say the answer was “No!”.
New Code of Conduct Arrangements under the Localism Act 2011
A report to revise the code of conduct for Councillors as a result of the new Localism parliamentary act was tabled by Council leader Cllr David Ellesmere. The headline from this report is the hated Stasi-like Standards Committee will be abolished and councillors will not have the thought police breathing down their necks in future as the rule of ‘pre-determination’ – whereby a councillor could not have a view and could not represent his/her residents – is also being scrapped. You guessed it, these were measures brought in by the last Labour government to suppress Tory dominated local government.
Cllr John Carnall passionately defended the Localism Act and told us that out of 6000 complaints received by the Standards Board for England only 28% were worthy of investigation with the vast majority of complaints from councillors about councillors being vexatious and malicious. Cllr Carnall made the best point of the evening: “The local electorate judges councillors not unelected bureaucrats!”. Quite right.
The report was unanimously carried.
Corporate Health & Safety
This report was unanimously carried with hardly a whisper from councillors.
This report looked on paper to be a rubber stamping exercise but due to the content referencing the money still owed to the council by Icelandic banks and the changes to housing finance it sparked passionate rhetoric from Tories Cllr Carnall and Cllr Pope. Cllr Carnall pointed out that the report said the Council expected to “receive all of their investment back” from Heritable Bank and Landsbanki but Finance chief Cllr Martin Cook had said only a moment or two ago during his tabling of the report that the Council did NOT expect to get all its money back. Cllr Carnall then asked Cllr Martin Cook to apologies on behalf of the Labour Party for putting out a leaflet in the local elections in 2011 stating the former Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration would lose £1.5M from their Icelandic investments. Cllr Cook refused to apologise for this propaganda and again contradicted his own report by saying it was still possible the council would lose money and it may even be up to £1.5M.
Cllr Pope pointed out that the Housing Revenue Account reforms enacted by the Coalition Government have enabled Labour-run Ipswich Council to build council houses and that the HRA rules under the last Labour government meant Ipswich Borough Council never had the money to build houses.
Interestingly, there was no report on the slashing of senior posts at Grafton House as reported by Ipswich Spy earlier this week. This is going to save the Council £500,000 a year. Surely, the size of the savings means the decision should be debated at Full Council.