This past week I spent no little amount of time watching the web-cast from County Hall of the Budget Overview and Scrutiny Committee meetings and what a sham they were.
When this single overriding Council was first formed, I had some fears that too many of the 123 Councillors elected to serve, had little and in some cases no experience of the work of councils, and that officers would dominate, sadly after two years this would appear to still be the case.
The budget papers given to councillors by the officers were poor, some had pages unnumbered, other councillors had no papers at all, the whole thing was an utter shambles, and remember this is the Council budget for next year, in these papers and numbers, somewhere, are the plans of which non revenue earning, non-statuary services the Council are going to try to offload to anyone else foolish enough to want to run them, hidden in here are the black holes were guesstimates of revenue income are little more than a officers dream.
Yes, many of the councillors did try to ask questions (when allowed by the chair) and yes, they did get some answers from the portfolio holders and officers, but the answers in most cases were not to the questions asked, and many have posted Blogs at their frustration: Cllr Andrew Wallis Cllr Jeremy Rowe Cllr Jude Robinson
But my anger is not with the Officers, it’s with the Councillors, where was your passion, your anger? Anyone who has heard me speak at a Town Council meeting on a subject that I feel passionately about, will agree that I have a bit of a style of my own, and I will be the first to admit that sometimes I overstep the mark, I will also state that I never hold a grudge against opposing speakers, in fact I welcome it, it’s only when you have an argument that you find your true feelings, but if I see a spade as black, trust me you will hear about it. I’m also the chair of committees, so I do understand the issues and would not enjoy chairing me.
So, faced with a Budget without the details, no papers, poorly prepared papers, a failure of officers to answer questions, what can a councillor do?
Now I should state at this point I do not have a set of Cornwall Council Standing Orders for the conduct of meetings, but this has never stopped me in the past.
Stop the meeting. Assert your authority. You are the council not the Officers.
As Chair, I would have stopped the meeting, asked the officers to leave, and asked the committee what they wanted the Officers to present to the meeting and when.
As a member I would have proposed to the chair a resolution for the above to take place.
Win or lose the vote, the point would have been made, we are the council, we pass resolutions, you carry them out.
Now I know this is easy to say, sat as I am in my living room on a sunny Sunday morning, but at some point in the very near future the councillors are going to have to take some control of the council and officers are going to have to carry out the will of the council. Until that time comes we have a council of only 10 members and a group of officers running Cornwall, against the will of members.
A case in point…. Graham Smith