We had a bizarre council meeting at CWaC last Thursday. Of all the Borough Council meetings I have participated in since I was first elected in 2007 this was the most farcical and pointless.
Now its worth recalling that Labour have control of the Borough Council - they have 38 seats, the Conservatives 36 and there is 1 Independent. To strengthen their position, and in defiance of the usual conventions Labour have made the Chairmanship of the council political. Instead of the Chairmanship passing to Conservative Councillor Hugo Deynam as was expected - and for him to be an a-political Chairman (he is the Lord Mayor Chester) - Cllr Bob Rudd, last year's Chairman (and immediate past Lord Mayor of Chester) remains in the chair of the council.
Last Thursday we achieved many firsts. This was the first meeting I have ever attended where two important pieces of business were withdrawn at the last moment. This was the first meeting I have ever attended where the Leader of the Council who was present in the Chamber didn't speak. The Deputy Leader didn't speak either and she too was present in the Chamber. This was also a meeting where the Chairman came close to 'losing it' twice. And there was little of substance on the agenda in any event.
The first piece of business withdrawn was a highly party political motion put forward by Labour offering support to their Trade Union paymasters. The intention was for the council to pass a motion supporting the notion of 'facility time' for union representatives, deploring the removal of the right for trade union subs to be deducted from council wages and roundly criticising the Government's proposed Trade Union Bill which seeks to defend essential public services from strike action when the strike ballot is not well supported by the union members.
Now the form of the motion put forward was largely a 'pro-forma' motion suggested by the Unite Union on its website. In other words the Labour Group was seeking to do Unite's bidding. However what the Labour Group had failed to consider was the Council's own Constitution and the CWaC Code of Conduct.
Where a councillor has a disclosable pecuniary interest he or she:
must make a verbal declaration of that interest;
must NOT participate in any discussion of the matter;
must NOT vote on the matter; and
must LEAVE the room where the meeting is being held during the discussion.
Sponsorship of a councillor by a trade union, including the payment of his or her election expenses is defined as a disclosable pecuniary interest.
Now we know from analysing their declarations of members' interests that the great majority of Labour councillors are trade union members and that some are directly sponsored too.
Before the council meeting started the rectitude of the Trade Union Labour members participating in the debate on this motion was challenged. In turn this led to legal advice being given to the Chairman which I believe led directly to the motion being withdrawn. I am sure this was because the maths meant that the motion would have been defeated if many Labour members would have had to withdraw from the meeting.
The other motion that was withdrawn was the motion relating to the Council's Code of Conduct and the requirement for all councillors to be subject to CRB checks (they are now know as DBS checks). The lawfulness of blanket checks being made on all Councillors regardless of what they do and with whom they come into contact is being questioned. Some argue that such blanket checks are, in fact, unlawful. I take that view. I also take the view that such checks are disproportionate and an unjustifiable waste of money. Councillors do not, as a matter of routine, come into contact with children or vulnerable adults when they are not in company or otherwise supervised by others.
I have always argued for the need for a proper protocol - part of the Code of Conduct itself which reinforces good practice and ensures that neither councillors or indeed children or vulnerable adults are ever put in a position where they are alone with each other. It is such a protocol - properly implemented and followed - that offers protection for all. You don't achieve protection by blanket CRB checks.
It would appear that these arguments are, at last, gaining proper traction - and accordingly the motion was withdrawn for further consideration.
One of the few items of business we agreed upon unanimously was a motion encouraging the council to do what it could, reasonably, to encourage residents to register to vote. However Labour's ineptitude was writ large even in this motion. They wanted the council to 'take every possible step' to ensure as many as possible were registered to vote. The problem with daft wording such as 'every possible step' is that it means, if properly followed, that the council should cease doing everything other than electoral registration. A number of us argued, and it was accepted, that the motion had to be amended to require the council to take 'every reasonable step' to maximise voter registration.
Interestingly Labour nationally is raising individual electoral registration as an issue. Perhaps it was the national party that suggested this poorly worded motion and the local Labour party couldn't or didn't change it. Or was it the local party poorly implementing what they had been told to do by their national party? I suspect we will never know.
Respect for the office of the Chairman of the Council means that I won't comment directly on where the Chairman came close to 'losing it' ... twice. If you are interested in what happened though do view the webcast - it is only about 2 hours long!
And if this was not bad enough, last week the Labour Cabinet genuinely and seriously considered a proposal to establish a street cleaning team with the snappy name - Street Care High Impact Team. It was to be known as SCHIT. You can see all that on the web cast of the last Cabinet meeting. The self-evident stupidity of this name has found its way into the national media too!
All of this farcical behaviour demonstrates to me that the ruling Labour Group aren't doing the job properly. Is it that they are not reading their papers, that they don't understand English, or are they not thinking through the various proposals put forward by others? It could be that they are just being led by the nose? Either way it is a farce and a not very funny joke.
Perhaps they are simply not up to the job of running CWaC?
You couldn't make this up - could you!
Lynn and I have been out this morning delivering letters advising residents who live closest to the footpath that runs along the railway line and behind the Leisure Centre that CWaC is looking to make improvements to it.
The plans are to widen the path to make is Frodsham's first combined cycle path and footpath. The widening will be done by removing the hedge behind the Leisure Centre. This will make the path wider. It will also make the route easier to maintain in future.
There are no plans to change the status of the footpath along Alvanley Terrace. It is and will remain simply a footpath.
The sun and the crowds came out to welcome
the Cheshire Ploughing match to the Wharburton’s Hatley Farm in Frodsham. There
was an interesting array of talent on display as farmers young and old,
competed in ploughing and hedge laying. Above all it was a wonderful
opportunity for people to meet old friends and new, set against the glorious
backdrop of Frodsham and Helsby hill.
My lasting impression of the day is how much and
how little has really changed in agriculture. It all comes down to an amazing
group of people who choose a job that is 24/7 and really a way of life. The
skill set that farmers need to draw on is as broad as it is long and they need
to be experts in biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, accountancy,
regulations, numeracy, veterinary medicine and animal husbandry and be a
black-belt in bureaucracy and red tape. Thank you Cheshire farmers who add so
much to our local economy, feed a nation and are the effective custodians
of our rural landscapes.