Friday, April 11, 2008

Thornaby Issues

The council day was dominated by a special meeting of Executive Scrutiny committee to hear two requests for call in of Cabinet decisions. This is quite a technical procedure to allow front line councillors to question whether the Cabinet has acted properly in coming to a decision. So it can't change the decision but it can ask cabinet to look again in the hope that it might change. In the past this was difficult because Labour a majority and so not only held every cabinet seat but also most of the committee seats. Now we have a Labour/Tory cabinet so there are two parties looking at whether they should be giving blind support to their members on cabinet!
The two issues being looked at were both Thornaby ones - the closure of Parkview Residential Home and the sale of Thornaby Town Hall. Both are very contentious.
Parkview is the last residential home in SBC hands. It hasn't had as much investment in the past as needed to keep it at the high standard it was originally in building terms. That, we're told, is because the council agreed a policy in 2000 of moving towards Homes for Life - providing aids & adaptations as well as working with the builders of new housing to ensure that people can stay in their own homes until they need nursing care in which case they can go into a nursing home. There's also a "halfway house" known as Extra Care, delivered in partnership with housing associations. This is all very well, but to the people associated with the home at Parkview it feels like betrayal. The question that had to be answered yesterday was "did the cabinet carry out its decision making process after proper consultation, with due regard for human rights and in an open and transparent way?" In the end it was obvious that the real question which couldn't be answered is "can we ever agree on a definition of proper consultation?". The cabinet member (Labour) is strongly of the opinion that everyone was consulted. The senior officers agree - they held lots of meetings with interested people. The interested people disagree - they feel that they were presented with a take it or leave it proposal. The alternative to closure wasn't fully explored and neither officers nor cabinet member had any intention of doing so because it would conflict with the council's policy. Never mind the fact that Homes for Life can't be delivered yet because there isn't the funding to give everyone the adaptations they need and the developers are still building houses as I write which don't have doors wide enough for wheelchairs, don't have electric sockets and switches at an accessible height for all and so on.
At the end of over 2 hours I was left with a very uncomfortable feeling that the process, followed according to the letter of the rules, hadn't really served the people of Thornaby at all well. It was obvious that the cabinet wasn't going to change its mind and I couldn't see any point in referring it back just to prolong the false hopes in the minds of the people.
By the time we'd finished that item we were 5 minutes past the closing time of the meeting and still had the Thornaby Town Hall issue to discuss. Sadly, I had to give my apologies - having foolishly believed the timing given, I'd arranged to take my elderly mother, who'd been ill this week, her lunch and it wouldn't wait any longer. Again, I was later told, after all the arguments were put the voting went against the call in so that decision stands as well. A truly iconic building, in the best sense of the word, which should have had money spent on it years ago has been left to go to wrack and ruin almost. Long before I was on this council the Liberal Democrats, led by Cllr Suzanne Fletcher, proposed not spending as much money on Holy Trinity church in Stockton and using some of it on Thornaby Town Hall. The then Labour administration voted against that and it fell. Sadly, at least one of those Labour members is now a member of Thornaby Independents but seems to have forgotten about the chance to stand up and be counted all those years ago. But such is politics. We all make mistakes from time to time. The art is to learn from them.

1 comment:

Village Park Residents Association said...
This comment has been removed by the author.