Friday, 22 May 2015

Labour rides roughshod at CWaC's annual council meeting

Every year each local authority has to have an annual council.  In most years this is nothing more than a yearly formality.  However last night's meeting at Chester's Town Hall was one of the most brutal I've ever witnessed.  Constitutional norms and conventions were swept aside - along with any attempt at consultation.

Labour took control of the council at the elections with, what appears on paper at least, to be the slenderest of margins:

38 Labour
36 Conservative
1 Independent

In theory this gives them a majority of 1.

The reality on the ground, at least so far as those of us on the Conservative benches are concerned is that we suspect the independent will largely vote with Labour - in effect giving the ruling party a 39-36 majority.  Slim - but workable.  Actions will show whether, in fact, our suspicions are justified.

When CWaC was created there was a desire to keep the Lord Mayor of Chester.  However as the Government at the time indicated that the Royal Prerogative would not be exercised to enlarge the Lord Mayorship to the entire Borough something of a compromise had to be created.  There was no desire to have a Mayor of CWaC and a Lord Mayor of Chester side by side - so CWaC would be represented by the Chairman of the Council, who on the basis of the convention established would also be Lord Mayor of Chester.

The Lord Mayor would be a-political - and by convention the Chairman of the Council would and should be a-political too.  This compromise kept the historic Lord Mayorship of Chester and allowed CWaC to minimise cost by having one person and one civic team representing the Borough.  Whether he or she wore the Mayoral Chain at any particular event would depend on whether the event was within or outside the old Chester District boundary.

These arrangements have been maintained throughout the 7 years since CWaC was created.  We have had Labour and Conservative Chairmen and women who have also served as Lord Mayor of Chester.

For the 2015-16 year, under the convention, the next scheduled Chairman and Lord Mayor of Chester was to be Conservative Cllr Hugo Deynam.   Last night Labour threw that convention away and created a political Chairman of the Council.  Last year's Lord Mayor and Chairman Cllr Bob Rudd was re-appointed Chairman.  Cllr Deynam did become Lord Mayor.

To my mind this step was unnecessary constitutional vandalism - that will breed resentment and difficulties for years to come.  It may also have increased the costs of civic representation in the Borough.  We don't know whether it has or not - as this appears to be one of those details which has not yet been worked out.  There is also the question whether those of us living outside the old Chester district would value a political figure attending our events as opposed to an a-political figure.

An a-political Chairman rarely, if ever votes at Council meetings.  This would mean that a Conservative Chairman would, in effect put the Conservatives 1 down - entrenching Labour's majority.  Now Labour would be worried whether the Conservative Chairman would ever be called upon to exercise a casting vote.   However the convention followed by most councils and Parliaments is that the a-political Chairman should vote to support the status quo - or vote to support the ruling group.

To my mind Labour could have negotiated this, and further entrenched their majority.  However they chose instead to create a political Chairman... and we saw that last night where Cllr Rudd, exercised his vote on several occasions.  He even commented that he was doing it - sensing internally I'm sure, that this was a departure from last year when he was an a-political chairman.  Labour also appointed a Labour Deputy Chairman.  In my view this was a mistake as Cllr Deynam could have been retained as Deputy Chairman and thus been allowed to act as the civic representative for the entire Borough by being the Deputy.  This would have been a workable compromise - and in fact is the model we followed in Frodsham when separating the Chairmanship of that council from the Mayor of Frodsham role.

Now the decisions about who will be the Lord Mayor of Chester, the Deputy Lord Mayor and the Sheriff of Chester are not made by CWaC - but are made, instead by the Charter Trustees.  These Charter Trustees are in essence the councillors from the old Chester District part of the Borough, who have the power to co-opt Councillors from outside the old Chester area onto the Trustees - thereby enabling these 'outsiders' to become Lord Mayor or Sheriff of Chester.

CWaC can proffer nominees for co-option and as part of the brutalist approach by Labour they nominated 3 Labour Councillors to join the Charter Trustees - and no Conservatives.

Until last night the Charter Trustees had a 15:13 Conservative Majority.  The Charter Trustees last night declined to accept 2 out of the 3 Labour nominees. So whilst this allowed the expected incoming civic team to take their places (two of whom are Labour Councillors) this also meant that 'business as usual' was not maintained.

Personally I want to see sense prevail rapidly and with a return to the conventions.  This would see Cllr Hugo Deynam placed as Chairman of the Council and the honour of fulfilling the civic roles offered on rotation to the next senior councillor who had not fulfilled the role before irrespective of party.  If this doesn't happen we could have the bizarre situation of someone attending a council meeting expecting to leave as an ordinary member - however instead they may leave as Deputy Lord Mayor or Sheriff of Chester!

Now not everyone sees the performance of civic roles as important - and I can understand the point of view... but the vandalism didn't end there.

The Labour group brought in, without any meaningful consultation, or any semblance of explanation wholesale changes to the committee structures.  They greatly reduced the number of scrutiny committees - dispensing, at stroke, with detailed scrutiny of the finances, children and vulnerable adult safeguarding.  They also dispensed with a tradition I fought hard to create - giving Chairmanships of scrutiny committees to the opposition party.  The Conservatives have been given no Chairmanships in spite of the fact we are the largest ever opposition group on CWaC.

The Labour group has appointed the one independent member as Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny.  However, if we are right, and that this independent isn't really as independent as he might at first sight appear, then this would appear to be nothing more than further cynical manipulation by Labour.   I hope I'm wrong about this.

It would have cost Labour nothing to have followed the norms and conventions.  They could have used the first 2-3 months to work out what they wanted to do - and made the necessary changes at the July Council, or indeed a special council meeting called for that purpose.  They could have generated goodwill by doing so.  Instead we have seen a brutal ripping up of conventions, norms and niceties.
With such a slender majority working by consensus would have made sense in my view.  Clearly Labour have signalled that they have no intention of seeking consensus or the middle ground.

Now that we have a political chairman I wonder how I will address him?  Is it comrade, commissar or perhaps convenor?   Whatever it is, it is with a great deal less respect than was due to the a-political Chairman he once was.  It was and is all so unnecessary.  It was and is so disrespectful.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Labour take control of CWaC

In the local government elections that took place on the same day as the General Election Labour took control of CWaC.

The new council comprises:

38 Labour Councillors;
36 Conservative Councillors; and
01 Independent.

Labour therefore has a majority of 1.

One of the interesting quirks of this election is that Labour took the majority of the council seats but didn't take the majority of the votes:

PartySeats Votes% Share
Liberal Democrats023,887

The turnout for these elections varied from 55.7% in Ellesmere Port to 78% in Chester Villages.  In Frodsham our turnout figure was 71.4%

We all face a difficult 4 years now.  With the numbers being so tight everyone will be expected to attend every meeting.  There will be little opportunity for holidays, business meetings or illnesses.  It will be interesting to see whether control shifts again before the next round of 'all out' elections in 2019.  A couple of by-elections is all it would take.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Cheshire West and Chester Election Result 2015 - Frodsham

This afternoon the votes were counted in the Borough Council elections.  I am honoured and delighted to report that Lynn and I were elected to serve for Frodsham for another 4 years.

The election result was:

Beesley, SueGreen4094.34%No
Dawson, Andrew WilliamConservative2,45626.08%Yes
Fletcher, DeborahLabour1,30513.86%No
Garvey, MichaelLabour1,43515.24%No
Pendlebury, JonnyGreen4214.47%No
Pusey, Michael JohnIndependent4935.24%No
Reynolds, TomIndependent4775.07%No
Riley, LynnConservative2,17823.13%Yes
Roberts, Vera SandraLiberal Democrats2422.57%No

A total of 9,416 votes were cast - not counting any spoilt ballot papers.

If you like your data per party then the result is:

Conservatives - 49.2%
Labour -            29.1%
Green -              8.81%
Lib Dem            2.57%

Many thanks to everyone who voted and who participated fairly in the democratic process.

Monday, 20 April 2015

David Cameron comes to the Constituency

David Cameron, our Prime Minister came to the constituency today as part of the Conservative party's national campaign and also to support our excellent candidate Graham Evans.

The Prime Minister was welcomed by Graham Evans to Sandymoor school where the Prime Minister met staff and pupils as well as well wishers and party members.

David Cameron gave a 'barn-storming' speech highlighting just how much progress has been made in the country over the last 5 years.  He pointed out how the deficit had been halved and how we as a country had created more than 2 million jobs over the last 5 years - more than the rest of the EU combined.  Much work had been done - but much more also remained to be done.

The Prime Minister also highlighted the dangers of a weak Labour party being held in thrall to the SNP on a vote by vote, issue by issue basis.

Prime Minister listens to Graham Evans!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Swimming Pool proposals - an update

Lynn and I are committed to a full consultation with residents over whether there is support for a community swimming pool.  Personally both of us would like to see a community pool built somewhere along the A56 - potentially at Helsby High School.  It would be a pool that would serve Frodsham, Helsby and the surrounding villages and communities.  In essence it would be a pool for the Helsby High School catchment area.

However as such a pool would cost of the order of £3m as well as having substantial on-going running costs - we have to be clear that such a pool would be both affordable and that it would be used, if built by the community.

Sport England (and Active Cheshire) advise that the minimum catchment area for a community pool is a population of 13,000.  They also advise that around 90% of community pools run at a loss.  The population of the High School catchment area is of the order of 18,000.  Frodsham's population is around 9,000.  Frodsham is not in a position to 'go it alone.'

Now whatever we may think of Peel's various plans us and the land on the Mersey Estuary - there will be substantial community benefit funds being made available.  However even though these funds will be substantial - they do not cover the capital and running costs for building a pool.  Peel is currently considering offering around £2,000 per MW of nominal output of their wind farm for each of the next 25 years.  The nominal capacity is 50MW.  Therefore the minimum offered payment each year for 25 years would be £100,000 per year.  £100,000 is around the parish council budget for Helsby Parish, or around half of the Frodsham Town council annual budget.   If we are to have a community pool - we will have to find funds elsewhere too.

Lynn and I have already secured the interest in the scheme of CWaC.  CWaC are carrying out a feasibility study.  The initial thoughts from CWaC are that the community benefit funds would need to be invested in the pool.   However the decision about how such funds are spent is not for CWaC to decide.  Also even if all these monies are put into supporting a pool it is clear that additional resources would have to be raised.

In our view - the starting process for this has to be learning what the community want in a comprehensive consultation.

Lynn and I want to see the community asked specifically whether they support the community benefit  monies being spent on a single project - like a swimming pool - or on other lots of other schemes.  One of the attractions of investing in a single project is that it would minimise the costs of administering the funds.  From the discussions we have had it is clear that whilst there is significant support for a pool there are also lots of other good ideas out there for these monies.

You may recall that at Frodsham's Xmas Festival on 30 November 2014 Lynn and I, with Graham Evans MP ran a stall that sought to test the level of support for a community pool.   Nearly 400 people signed the petition - saying that they would support a community pool for Frodsham.

In addition to this local support we have support from Graham Evans, our council colleagues in the adjacent wards in Helsby, Kinglesy, Gowy and Elton.

In January 2015 we set out on our page in Frodsham Life what we saw as the potential 'route map' for securing a community pool.  This is what the page said:

The good news for the community is that all the Conservative candidates - whether for Parliament, or for the Borough Council wards of Frodsham, Helsby, Kingsley, Gowy and Elton - all support the idea of a community pool - and that it is and must be for the community to decide whether or not there is support for the community benefit monies being spent on a pool.

The other 'news' is that in addition to the community benefit funds for the wind farm there will also be further community benefit funds if Peel builds the Ince Resource Recovery Park and the Hapsford Solar Farm.  Whilst Ince has planning permission - the solar farm does not.

Lynn and I secured a commitment from Peel to provide a community benefit fund for the Ince scheme (none of the Labour Cllrs for the adjacent areas or the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port & Neston seemingly sought this nor did the Labour Secretary of State who granted the original planning permission.)  We do not yet know the size of those funds.

If there is community support for a pool, a business case for it will have to be developed.  If there has to be a subsidy from the council tax to support a pool we will also ensure that local residents are consulted again.

[promoted and published by Andrew Dawson & Lynn Riley on behalf of themselves - all of WVCA Unionist Buildings, Nicholas Street, Chester CH1 2NX ]