Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Holding the Cabinet to account & Standing up for Justice

Not the Downing St cabinet, but the Stockton Council cabinet. The meeting of full council is one time when it's possible to question cabinet members in public about anything that falls into their remit. Tonight's meeting had a marathon lot of questions down for responses. Of course the question is submitted in advance and the cabinet member can ask officers of the council to prepare answers but then the questioner can ask a supplementary question and that is unscripted. Tonight Alan asked again about facilities for young people in the borough and especially why we don't have anywhere for our youngsters to go and enjoy skateboarding and off road cycling in a controlled safe environment. He got the usual anwers about us having lots of other things but it doesn't get away from the fact that our cabinet has not put the resources into getting that sort of facility when other neighbouring boroughs have.
John's questions about the disruption to bus services during SIRF produced a woefully inadequate answer from the cabinet member, claiming that the delays to bus services were only 5 minutes when we have evidence from one of our own members of an hour wait for a bus that should have been running every 10 minutes as well as complaints from others. Then he claimed that some relevant minutes hadn't been shown to him when they're sent to all members on the same e-mail. I do wonder, yet again, about the quality of some of our cabinet members.
I'm sure that Suzanne will have something to say on her blog about the missing millions paid into other councils from our council tenants. Suffice to say here that the answer to her question wasn't surprising but was appalling.
Perhaps the snappiest quote of the meeting came from a Thornaby Independent councillor protesting about a local PPC trying to claim credit for work done by council officers and councillors. I didn't see the alleged piece in the local paper so I can't comment on the veracity or otherwise of the statements made in the council chamber tonight but his question did bring at least a smile to most faces and applause from some: "Is the ability to distort the truth a product of legal training or being a Conservative?".
On a more serious note the meeting ended with a motion deploring the continued deportation of people back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The deputy leader of the labour group moved the motion with a very good speech on why people shouldn't be made to go back there when they're not safe. Suzanne Fletcher spoke movingly of the young man who'd stayed with them for a time before being deported and of the dangers and privations he faced and is still facing. I spoke of Stockton's history of people who stand up and are counted on the side of right and Justice and of how proud I am that Stockton is the home of Justice First, working for justice for people trying desperately to be granted a safe place to live. I'd thought of mentioning the disgraceful response Fiona Hall MEP had from the Minister concerned when she'd raised the issue of safety for those going back but decided against introducing any possibility of being accused of party politicising the subject matter. Those who need to know do know the work that Fiona did at that time.
The motion was carried unanimously of course, because no-one would vote against such an emotive motion, but I hope that many councillors will do more than just go home after it. I'd hate to think it was just lip service.
On the way home I found out that there's to be a fund-raising dinner to support this work so if you live in the Teesside area and you can afford to pay for a ticket you could keep Nov 7th free and watch this space for more details.

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