Please note this post is from my previous blog. To read my posts during the 2017 General Election campaign click here.
Last month I tried to get back into the habit of using my blog to shed some light on Full Council meetings at the Town Hall, for those interested! My blog post in advance of the June Full Council received an unexpected mention in the meeting, as it turns out my one-time Labour opposite number Cllr John Fahy is a voracious reader! I’m not sure he liked what he read.
Cllr Fahy aside, the post got a fair few views and a positive reception, so I will try to continue in advance of Full Council meetings from now on.
Questions and petition responses
There are 23 questions tonight from Conservative councillors. I will be asking about the Leader of the Council, Denise Hyland, to consider exempting care leavers under 25 from Council Tax, to help tackle the problem of financial difficulty of young people leaving the care system. I think that this move, which has been agreed with cross-party support in Birmingham, could make a real difference at a reasonable cost that could be met from the council’s anti-poverty fund.
I also have questions on the very short-notice closure of the Warehouse Sports and Performing Arts Centre in Plumstead, the council’s parks consultation, a new government sustainable transport Access fund and the interim sugar levy we agreed at the March meeting.
Other questions from the Conservative Group include questions from Cllr Mark Elliott on the impact of data protection changes, Cllr Geoff Brighty on the problem of car racing at the Millennium Retail Park, Cllr Spencer Drury on the council’s policy towards dogs in council properties, and Cllr Matt Clare on the issue of commuter parking.
The council is also giving formal responses to petitions, including to Unite’s petition on their determination to close the mobile library despite huge opposition and to my successful petition with ward colleagues against the unlocking of New Eltham parks overnight.
Conservative councillors are also handing in petitions on parking in New Eltham, and on our ongoing campaign to bring the Cycle Hire Scheme to Greenwich Town Centre.
July is the meeting in the annual cycle where we are presented with the Statement of Accounts – which I and fellow members of the Audit & Risk Management Panel were scrutinising last night. Tonight I will be raising, as last night – and last year – the opposition’s long-held view that the accounts of council-owned subsidiary companies like GLL and GSPlus should also be published alongside the main accounts. In my view, in the interests of transparency everything should be published for public scrutiny so that readers get a full picture of the council’s activities.
There were interesting questions last night about some of the finer detail of the council’s reserves – at the previous Audit & Risk Management meeting I requested a separate session on this, so we will be diving into this soon. Blog to follow.
Tonight there’s also the Treasury Management Outturn Report – in a nutshell, this is a technical report on how the council is doing at managing its investments and borrowing. We scrutinised a more recent report on this, covering Q2 2016, last night, and more than one of us also took the opportunity to ask officers about the immediate impact of Brexit on the council’s investments and borrowing. The answer is that it is clearly too soon to tell – although the only relevant effect so far has actually been to reduce borrowing costs. This will be one to watch.
The first motion on the agenda is a cross-party motion on #greenwichtogether written by Labour’s Cllr Jackie Smith and I. This refers to the council’s response to the alarming rise in reported hate crime since the EU referendum – Cllr Smith and I have drafted this motion together as a means of reflecting the whole council’s determination that these despicable actions have no place in our borough. As I said in the last meeting, it is clear that some people who were vile bigots before the referendum are still vile bigots after it, and some have been emboldened by the result in the appalling incidents that have reported. Their actions have nothing to do with the 17 million decent people who voted to Leave – and it is right that regardless of our differing views on the EU, all councillors in Greenwich are coming together as one this evening to condemn those who are twisting the result for their own ends.
The second motion on the NHS may prove more controversial. This motion comes from Cabinet Member David Gardner, with plenty of Labour Party political attacks on the government, and also a call for the Greenwich CCG to reverse its decision to cease funding for The Source on the Horn Park estate until an alternative arrangement can be found. We will be putting down a constructive amendment that I have asked Cllr Gardner to support.
Our amendment removes the areas of national party political disagreement on which we will frankly never agree – the best example being the motion’s party political criticism of the government over NHS spending. This ignores the fact that this NHS spending in England is increasing by £10 billion by 2020 in real terms (and is a bit rich, coming from a party whose 2015 manifesto only committed £2.5 billion, way short of what the NHS itself had said it needed). Locally too, NHS spending is increasing significantly. Despite this, however, increasing demand, demographic pressures and the fact that the CCG did not make enough savings in 2015/16 has left it unable to set a balanced budget for this year – something we should all be concerned about.
One consequence is the CCG’s decision to end funding for The Source – and the Conservative Group agrees that the CCG should not end its funding until an alternative arrangement can be found. We additionally think that the CCG needs to allow more time for the council to take a pro-active role in finding a solution, including considering how its public health services could be redeployed to make such an alternative financially viable. Our amendment adds these constructive proposals, to improve and strengthen the motion.
I suspect this will be in many ways, depressingly, a classic Greenwich Council debate. Some Labour councillors may want to use Full Council to spend an evening agreeing with themselves and the usual tribal party politics – but we come to these meetings constructively to debate local problems and what we can practically do as a Council Chamber to resolve them. Cllr Gardner is a reasonable person and someone with whom we have worked across party lines before. We’ll see if his colleagues accept the challenge I’ve given them to shelve the partisanship and speak as one on this issue. History would suggest not!
Finally, the meeting will end with a quick and simple Conservative motion on webstreaming of committees, to help further extend the principle of openness and transparency in the conduct of official council meetings. Conservative councillors, not least former Deputy Leader Nigel Fletcher, have long campaigned for webstreaming of Full Council, which finally began in January. I am told that 524 users have watched so far – and although we are a vain bunch, as most politicians are, these can’t all be councillors watching their debates back!
Our quick motion tonight would extend this service to cover the Planning Board and the Highways Committee in the first instance, as two meetings that are often of particular and intense interest to local residents. The council’s Deputy Leader told me last month that he would agree in theory, and I think there is support for the principle from both sides, with possible queries over the technicalities. I hope that we can agree a way forward and get the ball rolling.
That’s it – a long blog post, for what will be a long meeting. If I haven’t put you off too much, do watch live from 7pm here (or better yet, watch again at the same link available from tomorrow onwards, so you can skip through the dull bits!). The council’s Democratic Services team have done a great job putting this service together and it is quite easy to use, so do give it a try.
I’ll also be tweeting from after the meeting later @MattHartley100