Friday, September 15, 2017

Dear Labour, if you're not too tired or fed up....Can I ask a question please?

I like asking it nosy, call it a desire to learn, call it whatever you want (just be civil) but I really like asking questions. Most revolve around the daily chores, figuring out what the kids are up to or what I have forgotten to do now.

As a councillor, I sit on a scrutiny committee and really enjoy asking questions there especially when another complex or critical issue comes up. I feel that by asking questions we can make informed decisions and help our residents understand why those decisions are made.By asking those questions I can arrive at a decision to support or not the CWaC labour administration in achieving their statutory responsibilities and aims. get it, I like asking questions. I'll get on with the point of this now before you stop reading and muttering comments such as "I'm fed up now".

So, at full council meetings we are asked/allowed/able to ask questions of the Cabinet Members of the Labour administration - questions which are recorded, minuted and available for all to see (there are some die-hards out there who apparently watch the council webcasts). When the question is answered, we then get to ask a follow up question - this is called a supplementary and I'll get back to this later.....

The questions have to be submitted a few days in advance and they are answered towards the end of the council meeting if only there is time to do so. Maybe not all will be read, maybe none if the schedule is full or all the allotted time is taken. All of this is covered in the constitution.

The opportunity to ask a question is important, given that we only meet at full Council 6 times a year ( and one of those is mostly ceremonial) it is a chance of members of all political parties to "nail down" the cabinet members on important topics and get them to take some form of accountability.

Hope you are still with me.....maybe you are a bit tired by now.....

Remember the bit about all the allotted time being taken? Well, turns out that there's been a lot of that happening at our council meetings. Many of you will use the "old ones are the best ones" answer for that - you know, politicians like to hear their own voices, blowing hot air etc. but really, there has been a LOT of time taken up in the meetings, time talking about issues which CWaC cant do much about and only result in strongly worded letters being drafted to government ministers who reply with a "thanks" or "noted".

So when after three or four council meetings in a row where maybe one or two questions are actually asked out of maybe twenty or so submitted at each meeting, the conservative team start to voice disquiet at the intentional tactic Labour are deploying in order for us NOT to ask difficult questions (I haven't been able to find out where that lies on the "respect" agenda) and ask for more time at the July Council meeting.....the reply was both informative and shocking.

The best way I can show you this is via video (from the July Council Webcast) and it details what our Council Chairman replied to our request to actually get more time to answer the questions (22 were submitted, 1 was answered on the night). There were other comments from other Cllrs so please make sure you watch the whole section of the webcast (via the CWaC website)

Now I have tried to be fair in that there is some explanation of the process given in the video and the Chairman is factually correct on his comments about the constitution and the previous changes made but for any Chairman of CWaC to state "when I get tired or fed up I can say we've had enough of doing that" that does not strike me as being fully respectful to CWaC residents, especially those who, like me "like to ask questions". After all, these questions come from residents and are important to residents (as are the answers).

As you know I like to ask is one or two for you...what exactly are Labour scared of? Why don't they like being asked questions? Too difficult? Here are my two two pennies.....The questions submitted are often answered with help and direction from council officers, service chiefs and dept heads etc. (makes sense to me because often details such as costs, timings etc are asked).

If the questions are answered in Council, the asking Cllr can pose a supplemental question....remember this? the follow up which can be harder to answer than the original question and must require the person asked to be "on top of their game".

If the questions are not answered in Council, the supplemental must be written and can take a very long time to be returned and appear to be once again answered with help from the officers.

Next time I'm fed up or tired sitting to another Labour "rant to the world because I'll prove to the unions that I look good" motion in Council, I'll be dreaming "can I ask a question......please?"

Finally...the questions I submitted for July 2017 meeting (not answered on the night)

Question 6 From Councillor Michael Baynham to Councillor Angela Claydon, Cabinet Member for Housing
Could the Cabinet member for housing please inform members that after the WYG report into the provision of Gypsy and Traveller permanent site highlighted a severe shortfall in the number of permanent pitches required by the council for Gypsy and travellers, why permanent pitches at Barlow Drive, Winsford allowed to be allocated to Travellers from outside the local area and without a local connection to the Borough, leading to this site meeting needs from surrounding authorities rather than those of CWaC?
Answer 6 The council has a legal obligation to have an allocation policy for the pitches on the sites under their management, this should reflect as closely as possible the local housing allocation policy. The policy it adopted uses a banding system to allocate pitches, from a band a to a band D o Band A prioritising those with a local connection threatened with homelessness – this covers those living on the sites in the greenbelt o Both band B and C have a local connection o Band D allows those who do not have a local connection to apply. The reason why we have to have the fourth banding with no local connection is due to a high court case decision in North Somerset. This stated that the authority could not disqualify Gypsies and Travellers from applying for its accommodation due to them not having a local connection, as they are transient, therefore will not be able to have a local connection. If the families from the sites in the greenbelt had applied for pitches they would have in all likelihood been allocated a pitch, as they could prove they had a local connection. Unfortunately no applications were received, despite the council proactively encouraging applications by contacting all families and visiting the sites.
 Supplementary question 6 
What evidence is there to support any further G+T permanent sites in the Winsford area when the council has not been able to relocate those from greenbelt land and who may have already been served eviction notices, given that they have already refused to move to this site?
Supplementary answer 6 The level of site provision required in the Borough and in Winsford has been independently assessed through the Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment and the Council is required to have a 5 year land supply of G&T sites. It is suggested that future site provision may consist of smaller family sites leased to individual households, which will complement the existing supply of affordable, public operated sites.

Question 7 From Councillor Michael Baynham to Councillor Brian Clarke, Cabinet Member for Economic Development & Infrastructure 
Given that the WYG report on Gypsy and Traveller provision for CWaC has been effectively proven to be of little value and that we are still awaiting final decisions from that report which affects our residents, could the Cabinet member for Economic Development please provide a full breakdown of costs accrued while working on Gypsy and Traveller provision, including the original costs to consultants WYG plus any costs for officers time, any associated expenses and costs of any time spent on redrafting of reports since the announcement of the WYG report at the LPWG on April 25th 2016 and up until July 20th 2017 ?
Answer 7 The cost of the WYG study was £24,734. It is not possible to quantify Officers time as developing planning policies, including for the provision of Gypsy and Traveller and Travelling Showpersons accommodation, is part of the statutory requirement of the Council as Local Planning Authority to produce an up-to-date and robust development plan. This is business as usual and officer time is not attributed to one particular area of policy preparation.

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