Please note this post is from my previous blog. To read my posts during the 2017 General Election campaign click here.
Last night was the council’s Annual Meeting, and my first as a councillor for Coldharbour & New Eltham and now (as of about 7.10pm last night…) Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. One of the many services local bloggers – I’m looking at you Darryl – have provided in recent years is helping open up council meetings to the public, in the face of the Labour administration’s point-blank refusal, thus far, to introduce the live-streaming of meetings that some of us would like to see.
As a candidate, I spent a year attending council meetings to watch from the gallery, and was moved to blog about what I saw on more than one occasion. Now I’m a councillor, I’ve made a mental note to try to do this for every Full Council meeting, as a small and humble contribution to helping provide the openness that is otherwise sadly lacking in the way that decisions are made in Greenwich. This is not to say my post-meeting accounts will be non-partisan or unbiased, in any way, shape or form.
There will also be occasions, as last night, when there is really very little to report. As expected, the council’s Annual Meeting was the usual perfunctory affair – and lasted a sum total of 21 minutes. The new Mayor, Cllr Mick Hayes, and Leader, Cllr Denise Hyland, were duly elected, the Deputy Leader and new Cabinet Members were appointed and the membership of the various member-level bodies (committees of the council, scrutiny panels etc) was nodded through.
The Conservative Group, with 8 seats to Labour’s 43, accounts for somewhere between 15% and 16% of the political representation on the council – and accordingly we are allocated just 1 seat on each of the various Scrutiny Panels, and on the Overview & Scrutiny Committee. Up to now, to ‘call in’ a decision that the administration has made for review required 2 votes on the Overview & Scrutiny Committee – and with just 1 seat for us, this posed something of a procedural dilemma that has occupied the Whips and the inventiveness of officers for a good few days. After some negotiation, the Constitution of the council has now been amended so that any 2 councillors can call in a decision, avoiding what would have been a serious knock to democratic oversight in the borough.
I am pleased to be serving on two Scrutiny Panels – Safer & Stronger Communities and Finance & Public Services – and look forward to holding the administration to account and providing the different, if lone, Opposition perspective that these two bodies need.
The other major matter settled last night was the question of who sits on the vast array of outside bodies to which the council can appoint one of its members to serve. There are 102 such appointments, on bodies ranging from the Shooters Hill Woodlands Working Party to the Woolwich & District YMCA.
We nominated Conservative candidates for 13 of these positions (a fair reflection of our political representation on the council, although the same rules of proportionality do not apply as for council committees) – including me for Firepower and the Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency. There followed the expected rigmarole of being voted down by 38ish* votes to 8 on each individual appointment (*there were a fair few Labour councillors absent, strangely). This is an experience I will sadly no doubt get used to over the next four years.
I had, perhaps naively, held out a glimmer of hope that my friend and colleague Alex Wilson (former councillor for Blackheath Westcombe) would be nodded through to remain on the board of the John Roan Foundation – particularly as the Labour Party chose not to bother nominating candidates for this appointment at all. Nevertheless, Labour voted against his nomination anyway, leaving a vacancy instead – a rather depressing spectacle and certainly not a sign of the change in the culture of Greenwich politics that has been much-trailed. It was similarly a shame that Labour would not allow my ward colleague (and ex-serviceman) Cllr John Hills to serve on the board of the Reserves Forces & Cadets Association – the Labour nominee for that role has, as I understand it, attended few or no meetings of that body over the last few years, whereas John would have added real value to its work.
So far, so predictable. The real action in the chamber starts in 2 weeks time, with the first Full Council meeting. After a year of watching events from the public gallery, I am looking forward to finally having the opportunity to speak my mind, rather than under my breath, on the state of local democracy in the Royal Borough – and will post an update afterwards.