Wednesday, September 08, 2010

So you want to be a councillor?

Tonight's council meeting would have given would-be councillors a snapshot of the wide range of concerns dealt with by those elected to represent their area. The Mayor reminded us that his entry in the River Rat Race had been an opportunity to sponsor him for his charity fund, and that he'd raised £400 so far.
As it was the first meeting of the full council since her untimely death there was an opportunity to pay tribute to Allison Trainer who had finally succumbed to cancer in August. The tributes were genuine and heartfelt - to her as a person and as a champion for the people of Thornaby.
There were members of the public present to ask formal questions about housing in Thornaby and get answers from the Cabinet member for housing. He promised that the work they want will be scheduled as early as possible next year - let's hope that he's right for their sakes and that meanwhile the approaching winter isn't as severe as the last one. This chance to put a formal question to the council is there at every meeting and it's a pity more members of the public don't take advantage of it.
Then it was time to move on to accepting, amending and questioning the minutes of all the committees which do work as part of the council. There were some good and useful questions raised, including one by my colleague John Fletcher on how soon the winter maintenance plan for the roads will be agreed, as winter is fast approaching. A slightly complacent response that we should have it in October is worrying. John will keep on asking and reminding, in an effort to ensure a smooth response once the frosts start to bite.
Occasionally Cabinet makes a recommendation which council has to approve in order for it to be implemented. Tonight the controversial one was which form of governance Stockton Council should adopt. We have to change - either to have a leader who is in post for the full length of a council (4 years at present) or to have a directly elected mayor. All the arguments have been put several times in consultations and in each case a majority response has come in favour of having a leader and cabinet, retaining the civic mayor. However, some members of council still think that a referendum would have produced a different result and argued for it. The debate was robust and not particularly well structured but in the end the Cabinet recommendation was approved.
The Labour group had put down a motion condemning the VAT rise and ranting against the coalition government. We put down an amendment which recognised the need for the rise but the Independents all chose to support Labour - opportunistic opposition. No mention was made by either Labour or Independent speakers of how they would have cut the deficit nor of how they would protect the people of Stockton, but then as John pointed out, they have the luxury now of being in opposition and being able to let others sweat to clean up the mess they left behind. They conveniently ignore all the good things which Lib Dems won in the budget, including the triple lock on pension rises which ensures that the state pension goes up by the highest of 3 indicators rather than keeping it artificially low as previous Labour and conservative governments have.
Towards the end of council meetings members of council can also have questions answered by the relevant cabinet member as long as the right notice has been given to allow them to get their answers sorted out. The sting in the tail usually comes in the form of a supplementary question which is not submitted in advance. Tonight's questions weren't particularly illuminating as they were about things which are public knowledge anyway, but one did give the cabinet member for children and young people the opening she wanted to list GCSE successes - quite irrelevant to the question and she was shouted at loudly for doing it!
Finally the leader gives a summary of the significant things that have happened in the area recently which impact on the borough and we can all go home.
So, a good cross section of what might can go on, but I'm glad that not every meeting includes everything or we'd all be exhausted!

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