Friday, 7 October 2011

Scrutiny call - in - Locality budgets

Ever since I was elected to be Rushmere Ward councillor, I have sat on Overview and Scrutiny. The first three years were as a member of the opposition. The first two years were wasted as the chair of Scrutiny used the committee for his own personal reasons. Then along with most of the Tory/Lib Dem Executive failed to turn up for training. Scrutiny improved in 2010 under the chair of Gavin Maclure. We saw the use of task and finish groups and we managed to achieve results and even undertook joint scrutiny with the County Council.Gavin even seemed as critical of the Tory executive as we were at times.

But much of scrutiny was taken up with call-ins. We, the Ipswich Labour Party Group found the call-in procedure the only way to get our message over as we were refused a seat on the executive (even though we were the largest party).

This week we had our first taste of a call-in by the Tory opposition, some may say time we learnt how it felt to have a decision called in, the difference of course is that the Tories were offered a seat on the executive but refused to take it up.

There is also another difference with Scrutiny under Labour, as is recognised 'best practice', we have given the chair of scrutiny to the opposition.

This call-in was about the Labour decision to stop the implementation of locality budgets for Borough councillors.

Tory councillor Nadia Cenci called in the decision and gave her reasons on her blog. Though they may no longer be in a coalition in Ipswich, she seemed to be supported by the Ipswich Lib Dems - here.

There main argument seems to be now they feel Libraries in Ipswich are safe and that we have also been told that we will retain all our school crossing patrols, the money Ipswich Labour put aside is not needed. They even got Tory County Leader Mark Bee and Ben Gummer to meet the press at Rosehill Library and plead for the locality money to be introduced as they never meant to close any libraries.

Well first off Mark Bee would have been better off using his talk with the press to call on his fellow Waveney Tory councillor Andrew Draper to resign after assaulting a police officer. But we still wait to hear him mention that but what Cllr Bee also forgot to mention is that we are still waiting for the re-introduction of school crossing patrols at Alan Road and also near Sprites School.

We will also not even know till November, when the Tory County Cabinet sits that the libraries have been saved.

But let's say that they are safe, of the £240,000 saved by not introducing locality budgets, £186,000 was to go into IBC reserves. That money is still needed as we have found gaps in the last Tory budget including not receiving as much money from the Tory Government in the form of the 'New Homes Bonus' as the Tory budget had us down to receive. So it is only sensible to keep that money in reserve.

Cllr Cenci gives her view of the meeting here, not so much a report on the meeting but just her opening statement. After she and Cllr David Ellesmere had given their views it was then a question and answer session. Big difference to Tory run scrutiny is that the questions came from both sides. Under the Tories only Cllr Debman used to ask questions with the remainder of the Tories sitting still then voting against Labour at the end.

Paul Geater from the Evening Star was at the meeting so Tories, Liz Harsant and Kim Stroet decided instead of asking questions to make prepared political statements. We did eventually get down to some serious questioning with Cllr Cenci creating some laughter with her answers about council reserves and Labour propaganda.

Then when that part of the meeting was over, and the press had left. We should have then debated the decision and there is a debate needed. For example, should even County Councillors still have locality budgets when the County is about to shut care homes and close Youth clubs?

But there was no debate, the Tories put it straight to a vote- with Liz Harsant stating, 'now the press has gone let's just get on with it'.

This statement more than any showed that the whole meeting had been a charade, they had no interest in debating the decision. The vote was lost and locality budgets will not be introduced this financial year.

There was also a sub plot - big hitting Tory, Judy Terry is a member of scrutiny but a sub replaced her. Instead we expected to see Judy Terry be called to give evidence as a County Cabinet member with the responsibility for libraries. But she never turned up - I asked Cllr Cenci, why? The answer given was that she had been advised not to turn up. 'By whom?' I asked. Cllr Cenci said she did not know who by.

So Ipswich Conservative group, two questions:

1. Who advised Cllr Terry not to turn up?

2. Why did she take that advice, has she something to hide?


Tanya Maclure said...

I think you are being a little unfair in your post. As the chair Nigel Cheeseman did not stop it from happening, there was quite a bit of debate during the questioning period. I think anyone who attended the meeting would have been clear of the position of both sides and the pros and cons of each were discussed through the questions. You mention debating County Council locality budgets but this was not within the remit of the call-in. This was to debate the decision made by your administration at IBC. And although some Councillors may have made political statements not all of us did this. I used the opportunity to ask many questions and raised within the debating period the important issue of whether Ipswich residents realise what they have lost by the decision to suspend locality budgets. I think it is a shame that Paul Geater had left by then because I think this is a point that much of the public do not fully appreciate.

Alasdair Ross said...

You are correct the Q & A session did turn into a debate, with even Cllr Cenci trying to ask a question! But a debate should and could have happened afterwards but the matter went straight to a vote with ' the aim of getting home early' seeming to me to be the main reason why the vote was asked for.
Not sure that Cllr Harsant should have been allowed to make a statement rather than a question and Cllr Stroet then made a statement with a couple of questions but did not even have the sense to change his prepared statement after Cllr Ellesmere had already answered a number of the questions in his opening statement.

The reason why County locality budgets may have come up if a debate had happened would be that it may have been argued that when money is short, locality budgets should be the first cut. It seems crazy that County Cllrs can have up to £10,000 to spend at the same time the County is looking to close or sell off care homes.

Anonymous said...

Labour brought in County Council locality budgets whilst putting up Council Tax by 18.5% and selling off large tranches of council homes - Labour on the County were very different to Labour at the Borough. Much more NuLabour than your colleagues are now!