Borough Council 20 July 2010

Just finished.

I do not think I have been to one like it before.  For anyone who is interested in these things and/or the promises made by Labour at the recent local elections, I urge you to watch and listen to the webcast.  The agenda for the meeting is in the previous posting.

Some initial highlights from the meeting:

  1. The allowance issue was a free vote on the Conservative side but to our amazement the Labour Group split on our suggestion to defer their proposed introduction of a £6,400 Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) for the Chair of Licensing;
  2. The 20% decrease in SRA’s went through;
  3. I moved a 50% reduction for the Leader, Deputy Leader & Other Executive Members on the basis that they have taken decisions to make themselves less accountable (see wording of motion (especially the concluding bit), which was not understood fully by a new and intelligent Labour Councillor);
  4. Councillor Sharma confirmed in an answer to my tabled question that despite what the election literature said about the 100 uniformed officers being in an ‘area’, it will actually be across the whole Borough.  This is major news, as it has always been the case – ever since I have been a Councillor – that within LBH, an “area” means one of Chiswick, Brentford & Isleworth, Heston & Cranford, Central Hounslow and West Area (Feltham, Bedfont & Hanworth).  This is not semantics!
  5. An answer to the question tabled by Councillor Lin Davies revealed that there is no financial forecast for delivering on the 5 promises;
  6. An answer to the question tabled by Councillor John Todd revealed that uniformed officers could be existing Hounslow Homes wardens – there was even a reference to street sweepers.  I do not recall a single mention to police or PCSOs in the answer from Councillor Mayne but will need to check this again.  This is incredible!;
  7. There is already a major difference between the way in which residents have interpreted the 5 promises and how Labour will deem them to have been delivered.  Thus far, only the promise on Council Tax appears to be similar in the way that Labour intend to deliver on it;
  8. Councillor Sharma surprised the entire chamber at one point by stating that he believed that I am human.

Maybe the above indicates why Labour have decided to decrease the amount of Borough Council Meetings?

Note: Here are the two motions mentioned:

“Proposed by: Councillor Mark Bowen

Seconded by: Councillor Paul Jabbal

In view of the recent decision of the Labour Administration to decrease the amount of Borough Council Meetings, and with that the amount of opportunities for non-executive members to hold Executive Members to account, as well as the unannounced removal of named Lead Members from reports, this Council agrees that the Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA) for the entire Executive should reflect this major decrease in the level of political accountability by decreasing SRAs for Lead Members by 50% as follows:

                                       Previous                Current
Leader                                  34,000                 17,000
 
Deputy Leader                         20,000               10,000
 
Other Executive Members         16,000               8,000

Council also agrees that if the level of political accountability and frequency of Borough Council Meetings are restored that the recommendations contained in the report relating to SRAs for the above positions should be implemented immediately.”

and:

“Proposed by: Adrian Lee
Seconded by: Samantha Davies

This Council does not agree that it is right for the Chair of Licensing to get a chair’s allowance for the following reasons:

The Licensing Committee met once in 2008, twice in 2009 and has thus far not yet met in 2010;
It is unlikely that the need for the Licensing Committee to meet more frequently will arise;
The remaining demands on the Chair are unlikely to be significantly different to any other Licensing Panel member.

In view of the above, Council agrees that the Chair of Licensing will not receive an SRA.”

There is probably a lot that I have missed but it is getting late and my head needs a rest.

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4 Responses to “Borough Council 20 July 2010”

  1. Mark Savage Says:

    Hope your head’s better by now, Mark and that you’ve had a good rest.

    While there are some important issues raised in this post, it’s sad to see that perhaps you haven’t brought out enough (for ‘lay’ readers particularly) that the council did agree to a significant cut in member’s allowances that saves an important amount. Here’s how Radio Jackie news reported it on Wednesday:

    Hounslow councillors make cuts to their expenses

    Councillors in Hounslow have agreed an immediate cut in their expenses.

    While they don’t get paid, they do get allowances to help pay for paper work and helping constituents. That money will be cut by 5%.

    The drop will mean the area saves around 156 thousand pounds a year.

    It’s all part of the council’s efforts to cope with a funding deal from the government, which will see them getting 5 million pounds less than expected.
    posted by Radio Jackie News Team @ 11:49 AM

    156K is no small sum. I’m not qualified to comment whether the chair of the licensing panel’s allowance is justified, apart from having spoken to a previous occupant of the post and knowing that he worked extremely hard for his money- and that it is very much missed now he is no longer a councillor.

    I suspect many voters in the area do not object to councillors getting fair expenses for hard work, whether or not they are over normal retirement age. After all, you had a lot of extra responsibility yourself as deputy leader under the last administration, and if I understand correctly, your extra responsiblities allowance partly covered a loss of income from your “day job” as it were. I don’t see why people should object to that either.

    The question of accountability and the cut in the number of borough council meetings is an important and serious one- though if some of those meetings are like the one recently called to do with the town twinning with a city in Israel-Palestine, then it’s probably no bad thing to cut them, do you not think?

    Thanks for keeping us posted on developments at the council, but as far as spending money is concerned, perhaps you’d like to find out how much it costs for TfL’s contractors- or was it the borough- to repaint the white lines and speed cushion markings on the Sparrow Farm estate on Wednesday?

    I don’t know what the normal recommended timescale for this would be, and of course it’s important for drivers to be aware of speed humps (the triangles have been repainted), but did these really need to be re-done less than a year after they last were?

    I could think of far more important things to be spending public money on right now.

  2. Mark Bowen Says:

    “it’s sad to see that perhaps you haven’t brought out enough (for ‘lay’ readers particularly) that the council did agree to a significant cut in member’s allowances that saves an important amount.”

    Were it not for the reduction in Borough Council Meetings, I would be giving the Labour Group credit. A 20% reduction in SRAs is not as good as it could have been when they have reduced facing Borough Council by 50%.

    “I’m not qualified to comment whether the chair of the licensing panel’s allowance is justified, apart from having spoken to a previous occupant of the post and knowing that he worked extremely hard for his money- and that it is very much missed now he is no longer a councillor.”

    There have only been two Chair’s of this committee and neither received a Chair’s SRA – they only received the £500 any other member of the Licensing Panel did.

    “The question of accountability and the cut in the number of borough council meetings is an important and serious one- though if some of those meetings are like the one recently called to do with the town twinning with a city in Israel-Palestine, then it’s probably no bad thing to cut them, do you not think?”

    I do not see a connection between the one-off absurd belief Labour had that the item you mentioned really warranted an urgent meeting and this far more general attack on democracy and scrutiny. It is a disgrace that Labour wish to radically reduce the amount of times that they face the music in the form of Borough Council Meetings. I would challenge anyone to find examples of where Conservatives in this Borough have failed to make sensible use of the provisions in Council Procedure Rules such as the ability to table questions. Fortunately, minutes for Borough Council Meetings can be accessed on the Council’s website and go back to 2003.

  3. Mark Savage Says:

    Thanks for your reply, Councillor Bowen (the formality is only to avoid confusion since we share the same Christian name!).

    I note that there don’t seem to be nearly as many comments on your blog since the change in regime. This is sad, as I think you provide a useful forum for your constituents as well as other interested people to read and discuss local issues. It’s a forum apart from a newspaper.

    However, dare I suggest that perhaps the tone of “Bowen’s Blog” seems to be turning rather more to those who are familiar with the workings of council, e.g. party members, rather than the more general ‘layman’ readership appeal it had before? The issue above, and those addressed in your subsequent postings, may well be of great importance, but they come across in a way which I’m sorry to say does not excite, inspire or challenge in the way some of your pre-election stuff does. Rather, they make very heavy reading.

    In short, it does seem as though the content of the blog at the moment is rather less in keeping with the sort of things ordinary constituents understand and take an interest in. Of course scrutiny and democratic accountability are important, but if they expressed chiefly in terms that are less understandable to the layman, they do struggle to hold this reader’s interest, at any rate. I’d love to be able to read, for instance, a comparison with the number of council meetings that are held in other areas, or those that were held in this borough under previous Labour regimes.

    Quantity of meetings does not automatically equal quality of debate, nor solution to problems and disputed issues, surely? If the same amount of business could be accomplished in less meetings, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

    Getting back to your blog and its previous contents, though. I know you can’t keep taking photos of potholes, graffiti etc ad infinitum, but it would be nice to see the odd “lighter” posting from you, Mark. We get enough heavy and serious politics on the world stage at the moment, let alone Westminster. These are austere and serious times- but hey, it’s summer. Shouldn’t we be reading here a little bit more about the lighter, more pleasant side of your job too- and the achievements of some of the many community groups you serve?

    Enjoy the rest of your summer, anyway.

  4. Mark Bowen Says:

    Thank you for your feedback which I have noted. I am not ashamed to admit that I was pretty burnt out after the election, which to some extent has not yet left my system. The massive amount of photographs of issues picked up in the constituency was always a promise I made to myself for it to happen during the campaign. I expect the pictures will return but will be more Feltham North focused.

    “I’d love to be able to read, for instance, a comparison with the number of council meetings that are held in other areas, or those that were held in this borough under previous Labour regimes.”

    It is a piece of work I have not done but I am aware that the amount of Borough Council Meetings in other Boroughs is lower than I would like but I am more interested in Hounslow. As for previous Labour regimes in Hounslow, when I was first elected, Borough Council Meetings happened around once a month. They changed that in either 2004 or 2005, with some farcial consequences e.g. business from February being considered in June or July. I am certainly proud to stand on my record – when in administration, we increased the amount of these meetings and the amount of questions that could be tabled.

    “Quantity of meetings does not automatically equal quality of debate, nor solution to problems and disputed issues, surely? If the same amount of business could be accomplished in less meetings, wouldn’t that be a good thing?”

    With respect this misses the point I feel most strongly about, namely the ability for Councillors not on the Executive to table questions or motions.

    “Enjoy the rest of your summer, anyway.”

    Enjoy yours also!

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