18 Jul 2010

Council stuff: I nearly resigned from being a councillor

I've had several meetings over the last week but not had a chance to share. This is just a quick catch up - am happy to answer queries if folk have them - it covers a motion I got passed condemning Council's accounting and a response to a report saying the Scrutiny committee is not effective....

Photo: Ebley Mill

Thursday night was Scrutiny - you can catch the webcast here - lots of issues raised but am delighted we can go ahead with a new inquiry into the Council's Decent Homes standards - it is yet another time-consuming activity - but hopefully worthwhile - more about that soon.

I also put forward a motion to condemn the Council's underspend - it was passed with cross-party support - this underspend is totally outrageous and I still wonder why it is not front page of the local papers. Some might remember the only time I walked out of Council - see here - huge weeknesses were exposed in the accounting at the council and I felt an apology was in order - councillors refused - anyway since the overspend we have been assured at our Scrutiny meetings that all was in order. Clearly it is not, as we now discover a massive underspend - apparently Officers have not given the correct information - an inquiry has been launched.

Well when I heard about the underspend I nearly resigned - I mean what is the point of being a councillor? We ask the questions and have been told what appear to be untruths about the state of finances. How can we possibly monitor performance of the Council. I am still bl**** annoyed and angry. I await the inquiry results with interest. There is much more to say on this but I wont bore folk here.
Stratford Park Leisure Contract

I was recently shocked to see no mention of indicators for a new contract of the centre mentioning sustainability in the Cabinet papers. This is not the first time - see my blog here when I had to raise it as an issue to be added to the contract. Well this time it was just that the papers hadn't mentioned the issue - again I am not sure why - but it is in the draft contract being drawn up. I met with one of the Officers this last week to raise this and a number of other issues.

It was a constructive meeting where the draft contract will hopefully be amended to incl some issues I raised like the possibilities of using roof for solar/feed-in tariffs by Council and anerobic digester. I have also sought to point out that the Corporate Delivery Plan has priorities for the District are Climate Change, Affordable housing, Resource Use and Economy - well the environment targets currently only make up 5% of penalties in the contract - this seems very low as they cover key aspects of those key aims. I have also requested Officers consider different energy forecasts - at present the contract is 100% Green energy - and so it should be. I hope whoever is considering putting forward something will be particularly creative around the green issues - there is much that can be done and it is time we had a flagship project in the district that took such issues seriously.

Planning enquiry drags on

Well another 3 hrs last week - on top of previous 3 hours and more this week. This is on top of over 12 meetings last year. See my previous blog on this here. We are relooking as the recommendations were too costly and now the Government has moved the goal posts so some of teh targets we were trying to reach are now not necessary. Hopefully coming to it's conclusion very soon.

Internal Audit report on Scrutiny

I also attended a training on the software used by the Council this week - the software is an impressive way of performance monitoring Council work - however as I said at the Scrutiny meeting it is not being used properly and it is therefore not allowing us to monitor performance properly. I was not surprised by the Internal Audit report that went to Audit committee a couple of weeks ago - it said: "Scrutiny does not appear to be playing an effective role in performance management which it probably could and should."

I did repeat that quote at Scrutiny meeting - there is justification for that report but it is by no means all the committees responsibility. Indeed the auditors wrote the report without even asking the Chair of Scrutiny to comment - comments which would have included the fact that more monitoring was going on but was not being recorded by officers. There are many other issues around this and I am keen to see considerable improvements - otherwise I will be asking again whether it is really worth being a councillor! Having said that, as I've said before, there have been a number a number of occasions where I have got disillusioned but also seen many tangible changes....anyway enough of all this, another week about to start soon so will put my feet up this evening....

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