Sunday, 30 March 2014

County Council Meeting, 25 Mar 14 by Cllr David Jenkins

It was another significant meeting for the County Council this month on the road to the new structure which will be implemented in May. We had a full meeting, a visit from Cambridge’s MP, a unanimous vote, a debate about money (allowances) and six motions. We started at 1030 and finished at 1750. That’s the latest I’ve known.

There was a low key start with prayers from a Methodist minister. It was short and to the point with a nice last message: ‘may they work together for the common good’. Then there was a petition about the state of pavements in Cambridge presented by Juiian Huppert (Cambridge MP and former Lib Dem group leader at the Council). He was accompanied by a Cambridge resident and budding para-Olympian. We all had our photos taken beforehand which will make for good publicity.

Then it was on to the substance of the day which began with three items for determination from Cabinet.
  • First there was a bad tempered exchange about the new statement of community involvement which, it transpires, does not include area committees in Cambridge along with parish councils despite their rough equivalence. An amendment came in at the last minute but Tories never like last minute amendments because it forces them to think on their collective feet. Then common sense rules and the Tories come up with a rational compromise. Tories agree to make appropriate changes. Amended policy agreed.
  • Then we got a smoke free policy proposal which would ban smoking outside but close to Council buildings. Difficult issue because it also bans e-cigarettes and poses reputational risk because of the sight of huddles of CCC employees on the streets and otherwise nearby. There’s another amendment on the fly to delete the reference to e-cigarettes. This opens a can of worms because it appears to allow e-cigarettes within Shire Hall, but it seems they’re allowed anyway! Free votes: amendment falls 44 to 18; main motion carried 34 to 27 voting all over the shop.
  • Thirdly the City Deal: harmony all round. We had to endorse Cabinet decision and we did. Mike Mason spoke and managed to bring in drainage. Voting 66 to zero! First unanimous vote I’ve seen.
Next item: CEO’s remuneration. There was a complicated and technical amendment which seemed to be understood and accepted but no, leading Tory clearly doesn’t understand but accepted half of the amendment. Rest of the amendment lost 36 to 21. Main motion carried 54 to 1.

Then the big pay deal. Independent Review Panel recommendation was tabled followed by a cross (opposition) party amendment which said that a big increase in basic allowance was unethical and needed to recognise the need for Spokes. Leader said he was very disappointed in IRP. He also cautioned councillors about voting for a scheme designed by politicians. Then there was some confusion about costs so we went to lunch and left the section 151 officer (effectively CCC’s finance director) to sort it out.

The section 151 officer did his work over lunch and produced new numbers: IRP proposal £780275; amendment £777910; current cost £840702 (worst case) £789090 (actual). Then we voted on the amendment: won 34 to 25! Just a couple of Tories voting for it, a few abstaining. Vote on the motion as amended: won 38 to 17, 11 abstentions with more Tories for.

Finally … on to the motions:
  • first was about a flexible approach to highways schemes. Proposed by Lib Dems, Tory seconder! I spoke in support and highlighted the StAC scheme as one which would benefit from such an approach. Motion carried 64 to 1.
  • then a motion on the March to Wisbech railway proposed by Labour. I proposed an amendment to recognise the historical context (I proposed a similar motion 5 years ago and its been a regular feature of Lib Dem alternative budgets), to ensure full support continues to be given to the Wisbech 2020 vision and to add value and to take it further. Tories against because of ‘omissions’. UKIP split. Lost 50 to 15. Main motion 62 to 0 with 3 abstentions. Not quite unanimous but close.
  • motion number 3 was about flying the LGBT flag during LGBT history month: I spoke about group leader decision 4 or 5 years ago to fly the union flag every day (which I did not support), the role of symbols and the minority experience. Motion carried 29 to 23.
  • the subject of motion 4 was openness in democracy advocating live broadcasting of council meetings. motion passed 46 to 14 (obviously some councillors had already gone home!)
  • then a substantial motion about the threat of moving Papworth to Peterborough instead of to Addenbrookes. Motion carried 58 to 1 
  • and finally motion number 6 from Mike Mason about, would you believe, the Guided Bus! I spoke about the fundamentals of decisions and the need to be honest and make sure we don’t make similar mistakes when we spend the City Deal money. Motion lost 21 to 33 Labour voting with Tories (historical note: Labour has supported the Guided Bus from the very beginning so this was not surprising).
And finally oral questions and I asked about the recent ‘windfall’ of schools money. I was referred to the School’s Forum. When I said I did not understand that answer I was told that I would be written to.

It was a long day and for the most part it was conducted in good humour with just occasional rancour but that can be accepted. There was plenty of positive compromise behaviour (especially by UKIP!) in the interest of getting the best available deal which augurs well for next year. But there is still the worry that the Tories don’t and will not like it and will not contribute appropriately. That would be a pity because there’s talent all round and we need it.