Thursday, March 29, 2007

Democracy Wins (I think!)

What a day Tuesday turned out to be. First of all the House of Commons report, confirming lots of things we'd heard in evidence in our Select Committee. Then a so-called Tripartite meeting of me as Chairman of the Children & Young People Select Committee, two officers from the Children, Education and Social Care dept (known as CESC) who have responsibility for policies relating to bullying and finally the Cabinet Member for Children & Young People who has the political responsibility for the policies. We were all supposed to agree the recommendations proposed by the committee last Friday, or modify them in such a way that they would be agreed. The people in the council who think that smooth working and consensus is all-important believe this is the best way forward. So discussions take place between "leaders" and everyone else falls in line.
At that meeting I thought that the assurances I was given about how the pilot of the software was going to be done were adequate - not brilliant but adequate. Fast forward 5 hours to the committee meeting. A Perfect Storm erupted. No way were those assurances adequate for some members of the committee. A democratic decision was taken - all schools and teaching unions should be consulted before the software was purchased to ensure that all were going to be on board with the system. The Scrutiny Officer was instructed to draft another recommendation and circulate it.
Wednesday dawned foggy and damp. I had arranged to take my mother to hospital for an early morning appointment. I emerged to e-mails on the Blackberry from councillors saying they approved the draft recommendation and from the SO asking me to ring him as soon as possible. The CESC officers couldn't accept the recommendation - it wouldn't work, the committee was asking the impossible etc. etc! Phone calls, e-mails and a further tripartite meeting set up for the half hour before the council meeting that night, except this time it was only bi-partite because the Cabinet Member couldn't get there in time. The Corporate Director couldn't agree the recommendation and I wouldn't take it out because the committee had made the decision to have it in. I said the debate had to take place at Cabinet over whether to accept or not. Certain elements not happy - this isn't the smooth presentation of a previously agreed report which they want to see. I am happy - the decision will be made in the open with the Cabinet member having to justify why he proposes whatever he proposes. Whichever way it goes he has to live with his political judgement - the most strident demands for the recommendation were from members of his own party.
Now I've found that the Cabinet member won't be there - he'll have to brief his colleagues in advance. Fun and games. I'm waiting to see which of his colleagues he trusts to speak for him!

After that it was the annual non-discussion of the Council plan before adoption. We're presented with reams of plans and expected to adopt. Most members don't even read them and there's no proper debate or discussion.

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