As a result of my relative success at the local election, I have decided to press ahead with my exploration of the democratic process in Derby. The primary step being to attend the first full council meeting of the electoral year held in the Council Chamber in the council house.
It was apparent that I had missed somewhat of an occasion. There were large bouquets of flowers at the front of the chamber and all of the Labour Party were wearing large red button holes – I couldn’t really see the Conservative Party from where I was sitting so can’t comment on whether they felt the need to ‘dress up’.
It turned out that earlier in the day the council had ‘made a mayor’ in the annual Mayor-Making ceremony. An interesting situation given that the Deputy Mayor, Mark Tittley, who was expected to take up the post, lost his seat on 5th May. So this year Linda Winter was promoted to the position. The Mayor’s role is to chair the full council meetings (and attend various functions and events). I’m not sure whether they still have the right to vote in the chamber, however I assume she will, given that her abstinence would level the balance of the chamber.
Anyhow, pomp and ceremony aside, the public gallery was quite full for what was going to be, in my mind, the highlight of the evening – the receipt of a petition with more than 5000 signatures on it. Surely this is the voice of the people having their say. (coincidentally if you get a petition with 4000 signatures it triggers a council debate)
The course of action called for by the petition said:
“Derby is to become the only city int eh country not to have a Citizen’s Advice Bureau. This is totally unacceptable; I want you to find a way to keep this open as a major priority.”
“Council resolves to find a way to keep the Citizen’s Advice Bureau open as a major priority.” (Council papers on this item can be found here)
The rules state that the petition organiser gets 5 minutes to present the petition and then it can be debated for no more than 30 minutes – cue the on screen count down clock!
Matthew Allbones presented the case very well – noting that the number of signatures on the petition was much greater than the number of people who elected any single councillor in the room.
The council’s recommendation was to ‘note’ the petition – meaning they would acknowledge it but not do anything about it – ignoring the 5000 residents of Derby who signed it.
Step in UKIP! Alan Graves, UKIP group leader, and councillor for Alveston, proposed an amendment to the ‘note the petition’ recommendation to something along the lines of ‘let’s actually reconsider this and see if we can find a way to keep the CAB open’. Frank Harwood, Conservative councillor for Oakwood, made a passionate plea having researched the numbers of residents from different wards of Derby who used CAB and showing a real concern for people across the whole of Derby. There were a couple of other contributions to the ‘debate’ then the leader of the council – Ranjit Banwait, Labour Councillor for Boulton – stood up to make his contribution. Needless to say he mentioned government cuts made by the Conservative Party, austerity, cuts, austerity, cuts and even more cuts. With a quick glance at the clock he then handed over to Councillor Repton from Darley Ward and it became apparent that this was all a bit of an act, carefully played to ensure there was no opportunity for a response. Councillor Repton spoke about how 80% of CAB’s funding comes from other sources besides the council therefore it should be able to cope without it. My later investigations found out that this 80% comes from grants for specific projects and cannot be used for the front line service of people walking in off the street – the fact is because of it’s nondescript nature this service cannot be funded by any type of grant and so council funding is the only way it could be supported.
And so the 30 minutes ran out and the council voted on the amendment – the Labour majority given the absence of Councillor Carr (Lib Dem) and the resignation of Councillor Smalley (Con) voted against the amendment and then following this for the original recommendation to ‘note the petition’. Interestingly the Conservative Leader, Councillor Matthew Holmes requested a recorded vote on the amendment (to which his entire party stood I assume to meet some criteria) which means once the video is live here on youtube, you can hear exactly how your representative voted.
And so the folk in the public gallery disbanded, demoralised and deflated, little did they know that a much more lively debate would follow:
Would it be in response to Councillor Barker’s motion to have only one member from each political group and some independent people on the Standards committee rather than it’s current make up of 3 Labour, 1 Conservative and 1 UKIP member (something to do with Widdecombe Rules)? Not a chance! The possibility of making this committee transparent and fair, voted against by the Labour Party – after, of course, pointing out that it was the Conservative Party that came up with the Widdecombe rules in the first place!
Would it be around the motion to review Taxi Licensing, where two proposals were put forward for consideration? Lib Dems actually suggested that a third proposal should be added, to explore other options as well, but no Labour argued that this was unnecessary too and promptly voted against it.
It certainly wasn’t during the election of chair persons for the various committees and neighbourhood boards – I nearly fell asleep!
No the heated debate came as part of the debate regarding a complaint against a councillor. It was found that said councillor hadn’t completed the relevant training and therefore the motion was to ensure that all councillors undertook this specific training within 8 weeks of being elected. An amendment was suggested to review the methods of training and so ensued a heated debate about whether it was appropriate to expect councillors to undertake online training, whether access in the council house was adequate for this, the benefits of face to face training (which does take place) etc.
It is very disappointing that that people felt moved to speak on this subject but not about CAB – but then I guess if it has a direct impact on yourself then its easy to speak up – forget that you are actually there to represent the people of Derby.
There were some other points in the meeting which opened my eyes – some rather unkind words exchanged and a general lack of respect between fully grown adults – perhaps Linda Winters experience of handling 3 year olds (she is a playgroup manager) will come in handy – see Derby Telegraph article here.
Image of Councillor Repton responding to the CAB petition.