Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Ipswich Borough Full Council Meeting: 20th June 2012

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.

It was announced at last night’s Council meeting by Mayor Cllr Mary Blake that all Full Council meetings will take place in the Town Hall from now on. When I was a councillor, I disliked having to use Suffolk County Council’s Council Chamber at Endeavour House when we had a perfectly good Council Chamber in Ipswich’s very own Town Hall. Like a lot things, it was no doubt for the benefit of officers who could just walk across the road from Grafton House when the 6-weekly democratic inconvenience of a Full Council meeting occurred. Say what you like about Labour but if they have a political objective they barge the officers away to achieve it, albeit taking over a year to do so. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition leadership couldn’t even get the photo of its councillors put up in the Town Hall showing the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration and instead we constantly had to look at the photos from the never-ending Labour years from before 2004. 
Anyway, back to the business of the council meeting. 
Council Questions 

First up was Cllr Kym Stroet who asked Labour’s Economic Decline Development chief, Cllr Carole Jones, if she was unhappy Ipswich had failed to be chosen as a so-called Portas Pilot. For the uninitiated, a Portas Pilot, named after retail guru and champion of the scheme, Mary Portas, is a central government scheme to re-energise the country’s high streets. If chosen, a town gets £100,000 of taxpayers’ money and advice from Mary Portas to improve their local high street. Cllr Jones retorted: “Yes.” Cllr Stroet then followed up with a supplementary asking if there had been a disagreement between Ipswich Central – the town centre management company – and the Council about bidding to become a Portas Pilot in the second round. Cllr Stroet was asking a rhetorical question as he and Cllr Jones had been at the same meeting where the falling-out took place between Paul Clement’s Ipswich Central and the Borough Council’s Cllr Carole Jones. The supplementary question did reveal more detail about the friction between Ipswich Central and the new Labour administration as it was made clear in Cllr Jones’ reply the Council is in favour of becoming a Portas Pilot whereas Ipswich Central are not so keen (possibly because they don’t like the idea of taking advice from anyone else?).
Personally, I don’t believe Ipswich needs the additional support from Mary Portas. Many residents complain about our high street but they are probably the type to moan about anything. Ipswich might have its development issues on the Waterfront but our high street is thriving compared to similar sized towns across the country, most noticeably in the North West which I visited last weekend – the number of boarded up shops there is truly depressing.
Next up was Cllr Robin Vickery who complained that some residents in Castle Hill ward will have to change polling station. I’m always a bit uneasy about councillors getting involved in the organisation of elections – it’s one area I am happy for the officers to handle and take the blame for. We live in a democracy and councillors should be seen to be at arms length from the returning officer and his team as to not do so puts the incumbent councillor in a more favourable position than the humble candidate.
Cllr Debman then popped up to also ask a question to Cllr Jones. I like George Debman’s direct style of communication. Unlike with some councillors, you know what he is on about. He asked: “Is Ipswich open for business this Summer?” with reference to the high number of roadworks around the town, some connected to the major Suffolk County Council transport project – Ipswich Fit for the 21st Century – works. Cllr Jones lived up to her Economic Decline role and refused to answer and said Cllr Debman should ask Labour’s transport spokesman, Cllr Phil Smart. 
Tory Group leader Cllr John Carnall asked further questions to Cllr Jones with one around the lack of consultation with market traders on the Cornhill prior to the Labour council’s decision to take the management of the market back in-house. Cllr Jones waffled on that consultation did take place – during the Town Centre Masterplan consultation – several months ago and that the market managers were happy. Well, they are not exactly ecstatic if you read their tweet on the subject:

Former Conservative Group leader Cllr Liz Harsant asked South East Area Committee Chairman, Labour’s Cllr Keith Rawlingson, what he was doing to improve the communication of Area Committee dates and venue details to residents and how he thinks the new Committee structure is performing. She told Cllr Rawlingson there was no information on the last South East Committee venue on the Council’s website and that the format of a Committee meeting in a ward venue was too formal and restricted the involvement of residents, something which runs contrary to the Council’s policy.

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. 


Treasury Management 


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.

Postscript

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. 


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A report from a meeting of Ipswich Borough Council: 25 January 2012

After Kevin Algar’s excellent report last time round, I was back on ‘blog roll duty’ this month.

The meeting of all Ipswich Borough Councillors in Endeavour House began in a sombre fashion as all sides of the chamber paid tribute to Russell Harsant who died on Tuesday. I still can’t believe I am writing this. My tribute to Russell is here.

Cllr John Carnall, Conservative Group Leader, was first to speak and he recalled how Russell always stood up for Ipswich, even if it meant going against the County Council leadership. Cllr Carnall also spoke about Russell’s devotion to the Conservative Party, something I was very familiar with from my time as constituency chairman, and he reminded us how Russell was an aficionado of leaflet delivery organisation!

Labour Leader Cllr David Ellesmere said Russell was respected by every councillor, whatever their political colour. Cllr Ellesmere recalled how Russell loved the political process and council chamber debate and how he enjoyed a good point being raised even it was made by the opposition at his own’s party’s expense. This is very true: Russell had time and respect for everyone – friend or foe.

Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr Nigel Cheesman spoke about how Russell was “dapper” and always had a “twinkle in his eye”.

It was clear from the speeches how much Russell meant to his political colleagues and friends. We will dearly miss him.

The Mayor then moved on to the evening’s business.

Council Questions were up first. Cllr Judy Terry asked Labour Portfolio Holder for Culture and Leisure, Cllr Bryony Rudkin, how negotiations were going with potential Broomhill Pool developers. Not very far was basically the answer. No time-scales were committed for if and when a developer will bring the pool back to its “glory days”. My bet is it will never happen as the business case just doesn’t stack up.

Cllr Kym Stroet asked how the town centre fared in the Christmas shopping stakes. Cllr Carole Jones, Economic Development Portfolio Holder, said footfall was up 7% on last year, which is good news! Cllr Stroet then asked a somewhat pointless question about how the council can improve service standards in our town centre shops. Sorry Kym, but what has the council got to do with customer service? We don’t run the shops, even though the Socialists would love to.

Cllr John Carnall then swooped in to take a bite at Cllr Jones: “Does Cllr Jones welcome the news Tesco are due to start developing the Grafton Way site in the next few months and does she now regret opposing the planning application, which will create 900 jobs and bring millions of pounds of investment into Ipswich?” Cllr Jones stood up and said no she didn’t welcome the investment and that she “very strongly” opposed the planning application.  But then said we are where we are so she does welcome it. Classic anti-enterprise clap trap from a Socialist – I thought she was meant to be in charge of Economic DEVELOPMENT!

Cllr Nadia Cenci raised an interesting point that charity ISCRE had received more money from the Council this year than was awarded by the Community Working Group under the last Conservative-led administration. As ISCRE is stacked full of Labour cronies it is hardly surprising Labour portfolio holder for Communities Cllr Sandy Martin found some extra taxpayers money to put their way.

Cllr Tanya Maclure raised an important point about the cost of setting up the ill-thought-out Area Committees. Why have Special Responsibility Allowances been handed out to the new chairmen of Area Committees without the Independent Remuneration Committee making a recommendation on the amount paid? Cllr Ellesmere waffled on that the Remuneration Committee will still review SRAs for Area Committee Chairmen but they were entitled to an allowance now under the existing rules. Unfortunately for the Conservative Group, the Labour Leader revealed Deputy Tory Leader Cllr Chris Stewart was the first to take up the additional money. If only Cllr Stewart had been at the Conservative Group meeting on Monday to tell his colleagues that!!

Tory Cllr Paul West rounded off the questions by challenging Cllr John Mowles, Portfolio Holder for Housing, on the renovation work at Cumberland Towers, a Council owned block of flats in North West Ipswich. Residents have been complaining of excessive noise, work taking place out of hours, lifts out of order and general mess on the landings. Cllr Mowles said he was aware and that senior officer Joe Howarth had been in touch with the contractor. Cllr West shot back to say this was not good enough and that residents needed a straightforward way of contacting the Council to complain if the works continued to have an unreasonable impact on their lives, such as – shock, horror –  a single point of contact! Typically, residents were having to speak with multiple council officers about the same problem in true public sector bureaucratic style. Cllr Mowles promised to tighten up the communication flows.

There was then only one report on the main agenda: Council Houses Rent Increase.
Labour Cllr Mowles announced rent would increase by 5.6% and blamed the Conservatives for it being necessary. Cllr Carnall retorted by saying it was not necessary to increase housing rents in a recession because the Housing Revenue Account in Ipswich was in surplus! So why does Labour need to put up rents? Perhaps because they are addicted to taking and spending public money!

Unfortunately, my Tory friends chose to round off the meeting by deserting their duty to actually vote on behalf of their residents. At the Council Houses Rent Increase vote, Labour naturally voted for it, but instead of voting against the move the Conservatives all abstained despite criticising the increase during the preceding debate. I’ve given my views on abstaining before here so I won’t go on about it again but just to say the electorate don’t elect councillors to NOT represent them.