Just back from an hour in Tehidy Woods, breathing in the smell of honeysuckle, fox and wet leaves – a very welcome antidote to Cornwall Council this morning and what one fellow councillor (Conservative) described as the bunker mentality of his leader, Alec Robertson.
It was the usual mix at the Cabinet. I was a bit unfair to Jim Currie, attributing ‘hot air’ to his report but somehow when he gets that gleam in his eye and starts the lecture on fiscal responsibility, it brings out the worst in me. The Cornwall Landscape report and the huge amount of work that has gone into it was rightly welcomed and even the obligatory half hour of self congratulation seemed almost bearable.
Then came the ‘pink time’, when the public and press are excluded in order to discuss confidential issues. Obviously, I can’t discuss what we were told (precious little, as it happens) but I will express my view that the behaviour of the Leader was rude and unnecessary. He refused to take questions, refused to explain anything, cut Cllr Doris Ansari off in mid sentence barking out that he wasn’t allowing her to ask a question and the meeting was closed. That was it.
It is an issue that has been discussed in other councils in public. A more intelligent and rational Conservative Councillor explained later the reasons for the lack of transparency at this time. Alec Robertson could have done the same and treated people with respect. He could have discussed it with other group leaders in advance, he could have done all kinds of things instead of creating another problem for himself.
It is a sign of weakness when people cannot cope with challenge or dissent. It is stupid and bad mannered to slap Councillors down for doing their job and questions continue to grow over how long this can continue. He is pulling his own group and the Tory/Independent alliance apart all by himself.
Jan Powell was the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee for Health and Adult Social Care at Cornwall Council but I have just heard that she has been taken off the committee and so removed as Chair by her group leader, also leader of the council Alec Robertson.
This is a stupid move, driven by party politics and the weakness of a leader afraid to be challenged on any issue.
Jan earned respect from all parties for the work she did as Chair and her focus was the best for people in Cornwall not the Conservative Party. People who rely on adult social care need independent, rigorous scrutiny of health and social care policies. Clearly anyone who does that in the Tory Party will be out on their ear.
Maybe I am going on a bit (late, glass or two down the line) but this matters. Scrutiny is about effective challenge, holding the executive to account and acting on behalf of people not parties. A good leader would appreciate what this adds to their administration and how it can improve services and deliver for people in their patch. A weak leader just wants to snuff it out.
Jan was also one of the few women allowed into the boys’ club. In Alec Robertson’s council, only Yes Men should apply.
Today I’ve been accused of telling lies, being on a pedestal and only interested in making a name for myself. (My correspondent, by way of contrast, tells me he is only interested in making life better for people in Cornwall.) All in a day’s work, I suppose but it is not the kind of thing to inspire people to get involved in local government.
No doubt Cllr Doris Ansari, who has been a major political figure in Cornwall and the South West for many years has tolerated and risen above many such insults over the years. I would not compare my pip squeaks to her long years of service but I am very sure her achievements were not based on pettiness and personal jibes. That is an inspiration and I hope she has a long, happy and fulfilling ‘retirement’ after standing down as the Lib Dem group leader.
As for the other hoo ha, I’ve been told that the Cabinet Support Member positions that I object to so strongly were only ever intended to be voluntary and unpaid. Certainly wasn’t the impression that I and many others had but anyone can judge for themselves by viewing the debate here.
Seems odd that the meeting papers specifically talk about remuneration for the appointed members but hey, as Cllr Alec Robertson so kindly mentioned I’m new here. What would I know?
9. the Monitoring Officer be asked to convene the Independent Remuneration Panel to review the overall number and level of Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA’s), to determine the SRA applicable to Cabinet Support Members and to make recommendations on such other matters as may be referred to the said Panel by the Group Leaders with the aim of reporting back to Full Council by no later than the July meeting of Full Council.
I suppose it is no use hoping that some councillors will focus more on political debate than silly insults but with the example of a very successful woman to follow, I will do my best to concentrate on the important issues.
It was more than a little heartening to have rattled Alec Robertson’s cage at Cornwall Council’s Cabinet meeting this morning and provoke him to a patronising rebuff and rudeness, beginning “You’re new here, Cllr Robinson….”
Newsflash Alec: I was elected by people in Camborne North to represent them, not get my feet under the table and fall asleep in a cosy club. Whether I have been a councillor 3 months or 3 years, please note that I intend to keep challenging when I think something is wrong and no amount of condescending blokes will stop me.
The proposal I object to is this: the appointment of councillors as Cabinet Support members with a suggested Special Responsibility Allowance of £8000 a year each because it is difficult for 10 Cabinet members to cope with all the work and according to Cabinet members this will help them make better decisions.
This at a time when staff pay is frozen, when the budget for the most vulnerable people in Cornwall has been cut by £16 million, when social care for the elderly and disabled is frozen, people are losing jobs, benefits are being cut, support for students cut, the NHS is having to save £billions … I’m sure I don’t need to go on.
Every day, we ask staff in the public sector to do more for less. How come Cabinet members want to do less and Tory/Independent councillors want more? This is the worst of elected representatives, who have the power to award themselves more dosh, so they decide it is an option instead of thinking of other ways to deliver.
I didn’t get a chance to suggest anything at the Cabinet meeting because Alec didn’t allow me to but here are some alternatives:
- If the Cabinet members aren’t up to it, sack them and get some who are
- If they are so overloaded, look at ways to make their work more strategic and policy driven instead of delving into detail.
- Delegate more policy work to the scrutiny committees.
- Find other members of the Independent and Tory group who can give voluntary support (oh the temptation to mention the Big Society is too great) in return for learning the ropes – it may also help a smooth transition when you get the courage to sack the lame ducks.
But thanks as well – very relieved the pally ‘we’re all friends here’ phase is over.