Last Wednesday’s Full Council may well be the last I attend for quite sometime as I am moving out of the area so I thought I’d make an effort to witness the political shenanigans one last time.
I won’t give a verbatim report, as now you can watch and listen to the entire meeting of the councillors who bothered to turn up (the Mayor’s apology list was nearly as long as the attendance list!) courtesy of the Ipswich Spy parish (scroll down for video).
Even with the apologies from all parties, Labour still rule the roost in Ipswich with three long rows occupied by the socialists with the Liberal Democrats (all two of them!) and the Conservative Group shuffled off to the far side of the room. It will only get worse come the May local elections when, as I have predicted before, there will be another bloodbath of the blues. Thankfully, it will be the high water mark for Labour but the Tories will be out of power for up to 20 years (and that’s no exaggeration).
Council Questions covered a broad range of subjects and were kicked off by local Tory blogger, Kevin Algar, who asked questions on tourism and facilitating social media reporting. It was somewhat amusing to hear Mr Algar ask what the council were doing to facilitate filming of public meetings, whilst Ipswich Spy‘s Ben Redsell was filming to his right hand side. A case of being a bit late to the party!
Mr Algar also encouraged the ruling Labour group to have Ipswich Borough Council meetings in Suffolk County Council’s head office because it is set up for webcasting. Rightly, Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere slapped him down and pointed out Ipswich Borough should have their meetings in their Council chamber in the magnificent Town Hall not a corporate office block.
The questions on tourism from Kevin Algar were typically not answered by Labour’s Economic Development chief Cllr Carole Jones. She has a perfect ability to just waffle a reply to any question which – if you can hear her rather grating and whining voice at all – are couched in local government speak to the point of incomprehension.
For some reason only known to Cllr Kym Stroet, he asked a question to Labour’s culture spokesman Cllr Bryony Rudkin which managed to reignite the Broomhill Pool row. “Does the portfolio holder believe that spending £1 million on a lido, likely to be used by very few people, is a wise use of taxpayers money?”, Cllr Stroet posed. This caused an uproar of heckling from the public gallery. Now, I’m not in a favour of any public money being given to starting up an outside pool business, which very few people want to pay to use, but there are a lot of people in North West Ipswich who are exercised by the Broomhill Pool nostalgia – and most of them vote in seats the Tories are trying to win or hold on to! Baffling.
Labour’s housing chief from the 1970s and also in the year 2014, Cllr John Mowles, was asked a question by former Tory group leader Cllr John Carnall about the decision by the Council to knock two homes together to house an unemployed couple and their (now) thirteen children and why he didn’t listen to the 84 petitioners who were against the move at a cost which is now almost three times the original budget. “I have no intention of discussing this and I am surprised this was raised and it disappointments me and demoralises councillors when such a question is asked – it should not be aired in public!”, Cllr Mowles replied. What on earth is he talking about? The council is spending a large chunk of taxpayer’s money commensurate with the Borough Council’s relatively small budget and Cllr Mowles has the audacity to say it is an issue which should not be raised in public. This smacks of Labour not wanting to discuss a subject they are ideologically influenced by and was boosted by Cllr Sandy Martin saying during the Council Rent Increase report later in the meeting he would prefer to see everybody in Ipswich live in a council house! Well, if he is that keen on living in a council-owned property, why doesn’t he move down the road from his privately rented cottage on Milton Street to the Priory Heath estate?
As was decided at last week’s Executive meeting (the real power-base of the Council), Full Council on Wednesday was asked to rubber-stamp a 5.5% increase in council house rent. Several Tory councillors asked how this policy ties in with Labour nationally always bleating on about the “cost of living crisis” – no answer did cometh from Cllr Mowles or Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere except to say they were “only following Government guidelines”. Conservative Cllr Carnall retorted the only reason rents were going up was to fund the new Council home building programme done to bolster Cllr Ellesmere’s Labour parliamentary campaign. There’s more than a grain of truth in that statement!
Later in the same meeting, there was a report discussing business rates and the Government’s plan to let Councils keep most of the money raised (before the Coalition came to power, all of the business rates were sent to Whitehall for re-distribution into Labour heartlands). Supposedly, there has been a few issues with the paperwork and Grafton House mandarins haven’t been able file their documentation to Whitehall yet.
The Labour group naturally blamed central Government and Cllr Ellesmere used the opportunity to let the Council know he was still waiting for Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, to tell him the council tax increase percentage threshold at which the Borough must ask permission of residents in a referendum – no doubt so he can lower it by 0.0.1% and then that will be this year’s council tax increase in Ipswich! Just for the record, Government guidelines stipulate council tax should be frozen but it seems the Labour-run council are ignoring the guidelines when it suits them.
There was an interesting report from Labour’s rising-star and Borough communities chief, Cllr Adam Leeder, where he told the meeting Area Committees were receiving new powers, mainly to do with being able to spend their budget as they see fit rather than always deferring back to the Executive. The points of interest weren’t in the detail of the report but in the debate amongst councillors. Cllr Sandy Martin made the most pertinent point when he told the meeting just one Area Committee represents a greater population size than any parish or town council in the rest of Suffolk, but still Conservative-run Suffolk County Council were not engaging with Ipswich’s Area Committees despite actively engaging with a Parish council in Lavenham or Bury St Edmunds Town Council. You just need to look at Suffolk County Council’s ‘Find your County Councillor’ site, where Ipswich is relegated to a ‘Parish’ to see the point!
This is one of the most powerful arguments for Ipswich being a Unitary Authority. Ipswich Borough Council has very little power, apart from planning application matters. All the roads, verges and any changes to traffic flow in the town are in the hands of Suffolk County Council; earlier in the meeting, Liberal Democrat Cllr Inga Lockington raised the condition of grass verges in the estates of Ipswich since the County Council took away the Highway Authority from Ipswich (meaning no decisions on anything to do with transport are now taken by the Borough Council) and low and behold it is nigh on impossible to get a verge repaired in Ipswich because it is like trying to climb Mount Everest to get it in the hands of a bureaucrat at Endeavour House, who has the whole of Suffolk to look after. Additionally, all the local authority schools are run from Endeavour House and as Cllr Martin made patently clear, the corporate structure at the County Council doesn’t even recognise the main conduit of communication between the electorate and their councillors. It is as if Ipswich is East Germany behind a modern day Berlin Wall, out of sight of County leader Mark Bee and his Cabinet in the “West”.
Despite Labour’s Cllr Martin articulating the raw deal Ipswich receives from Suffolk County Council, it was pointed out by Cllr Carnall that Ipswich has 11 Labour county councillors compared to just the one Tory in the Borough and perhaps they should get on with lobbying the County Council on behalf of Ipswich and its residents.
Another notable aspect of the Council meeting on Wednesday were the number of people in attendance to ask and support questions on the proposed Northern Fringe development. Questions on sewerage, traffic congestion and the New Homes Bonus were asked – all with an anti-development slant. Both Labour and the Conservatives (who cares what the Liberals think!) are in favour of building houses on the northern outskirts of Ipswich’s borough boundary; it was the Tories who approved it in the Local Development Framework when they were in power before 2011 and Labour are naturally in favour of upping the number of social houses built. So it really has become now a Town versus Country issue. As soon as the Council Questions were over, there was a mass exodus of rich baby boomers and their flat caps as they traipsed back to the 4X4s and their pretty villages. God forbid Ipswich will have more houses for their children to live in!
And this was the main thrust of the meeting, all two hours of it filmed below for your infotainment. Next time, Ipswich Spy won’t have to beg the Grafton House mandarins for permission, as the right for public meetings to be filmed by bloggers and the mainstream media is now enshrined in law, courtesy of Eric Pickles’ Local Audit and Accountability Bill which obtained Royal Assent the next day.