Tonight is the first Full Council meeting at the Town Hall since July – and it seems that Labour and Conservative councillors alike have missed the cut and thrust of the Council Chamber over the summer, with no less than six motions for debate on the agenda.
Followers of Greenwich politics (and there are a few) will know the score when it comes to these motions – some can be useful in airing an issue, some just occasionally manage to get something done, and some are utterly pointless.
There’s a mixture of all three varieties on display tonight!
Here is a potted guide to tonight’s meeting, and what to expect, from the entirely biased and subjective perspective of the Leader of the Opposition’s seat…
Firstly – how to watch the meeting
If you’re feeling brave you can tune in to the meeting at this link…
…and in all seriousness, I would encourage you to do so (or perhaps more sensibly, watch the bits you’re interested in afterwards). I’d love to say the installation of the cameras have made us all better behaved, but that lasted about two meetings.
What’s on the agenda
First off, there’s ordinary business of the meeting. There’ll be the handing in of petitions – most notably an impressive 5,000+ online and offline signatures gathered by the Save Avery Hill Winter Gardens campaign.
There’ll be public questions – and then 21 questions to the administration from Conservative councillors (and who knows, maybe even one or two from Labour councillors too – that’s one recent innovation that the presence of cameras has brought about!)
There’s then a flurry of votes that will be over in a flash – some necessary changes to licensing policy, the formal appointment of the new Acting Chief Exec as head of the council’s workforce, some sensible changes to polling stations, and voting through a dispensation for Blackheath Westcombe ward councillor Paul Morrissey, who is currently unable to attend meetings. We all wish Paul a speedy recovery.
We’ll then be running through petition responses from previous meetings.
Six motions for debate
Then on to debates on the motions presented by individual councillors and the Labour and Conservative groups. The first is a motion from Eltham South ward councillors – my colleagues Nuala Geary, Mark Elliott and Matt Clare – on the important Save Avery Hill Winter Gardens campaign. You can read the motion here. This is *not* an opposition or a Conservative motion, but rather one from the three ward councillors who have been working with the community campaign behind the petition. I know hope that Nuala, Mark and Matt are hoping that councillors from both parties will be supportive of the motion in the debate – I hope so too.
Tune into the second motion if you want to see an old fashioned party political dog fight. Labour councillors have put forward a motion calling on the government to end the public sector pay cap – a curious thing to call for, as the government has already effectively announced this with its new flexible approach to pay deals from 2018. In reality, this debate is another excuse for Labour councillors to waste some time on party politics. As they give, so shall they receive – my amendment will add some crucial pieces of context that they missed out of their motion, and the odd party political point too. We’ll all have a good shout at each other, and no opinions whatsoever will be changed – par for the course, I’m afraid. It’s why the Conservative Group never puts these partisan national-politics-focused motions down (see our motion for this meeting at the end of this blog).
At least, however, we’ll have got all that out of our system in time for the third motion – in support of Greenwich & Bexley Credit Union. I will be declaring an interest in this one as a Director of the Credit Union since 2012. The motion, which I’ve worked on with the Cabinet Member, Averil Lekau, relates to a prudential regulatory issue (I will spare readers the ins and outs!) and also reaffirms the council’s commitment to supporting the credit union. It will have support from both parties.
Fourth is a Labour motion on the problems arising from HMOs in the borough, which chooses to focus, instead on what the council can do, on changing the current system of building control at a national level. My colleagues Councillors Mark Elliott and Spencer Drury will be putting down an amendment instead proposing that the council focuses its energies on what it can actually control – in particular, a package of measures to address problems in Plumstead, which is the area of the borough most affected.
Next is a debate that definitely falls into the ‘worthwhile’ category – on a motion from Labour’s Councillor David Stanley calling for the council to launch a campaign to raise awareness of organ donation here in Greenwich, where, the motion reveals, there are 17 people currently waiting for an organ. It also calls for a national opt-out system (on which it has been somewhat overtaken by events, with the PM announcing a consultation on this at the Conservative Party Conference, since the motion was written). This one is a free vote with no whip on either side of the chamber, as is entirely appropriate given the opt-out issue, which is not uncontroversial. I will be supporting the motion and speaking, I’m sure like others, of my family’s first-hand experience of organ donation and how important it is we increase the number of donors.
Finally, at the end there’ll be the main event as far as the Conservative Group is concerned, at least – our motion calling for a full review of long-running problems in the council’s planning department. For more background see the News Shopper piece on this here. Despite the best efforts of dedicated officers who are working extremely hard, the council’s backlog in processing planning applications remains – and added to this has been the recent errors over the William Hill on Plumstead High Street and a phone mast on Siebert Road. The continuation of the backlog is now costing taxpayers up to an additional £50,000 through the hiring of external consultants at £45 an hour. Having first raised this issue in council a year ago, Conservative councillors believe the Cabinet Member responsible, deputy Leader Danny Thorpe, needs to conduct a full review to get a grip of these problems. We’d rather not have to put this motion down, but the problem is there – and it does need dealing with. We’ll see what he says…
A long evening ahead…
I hope that helps anyone watching the meeting to follow along – as I say, from my entirely subjective perspective! Do tune in or watch afterwards, and let me know if these blogs could be made more useful in the future.
PS the Conservative Group amendments on the public sector pay cap and HMOs motions are currently being uploaded by the council to this page – and I’ll try and add links to these to this blog before the meeting.