Spring weather and a county council meeting

ERIt is a splendid day. The sun’s shining and we’ve got a double digit temperature. It’s an interesting meeting in prospect today with the possibility of some cross party unity on a couple of important issues but don’t hold your breathe. Plus there’s the prospect of a visit from Extinction Rebellion (ER).

1005 and there’s a nice ER demo building up outside.

As always we start with prayers and at this meeting it’s the turn of the Quackers which is a fortunate coincidence given the presence of ER and the item on climate change on the agenda later.

It’s the first council meeting of the new ‘municipal year’ so we get to elect new chairs etc. The first is the Chair of the Council and that’s to be Mac McGuire who’s been deputy of two years. He’s also been a councillor for a long time, certainly longer than me and I’ve now done 14 years, so maybe this is the Tories rewarding a long serving fellow. Outgoing chair Mandy Smith gets a bouquet and speeches saying what a good job she’s done.

New vice-chair is to be Liz Every which just about scuppers my theory about Tories rewarding long serving fellows. Liz has only been a councilllor for two years.

Sadly there’s news to the death in service of a senior officer. We stand for a minute’s silence.

Lib Dem’s get two opportunities to celebrate early in the agenda. First under Chairman’s Announcements and then under Report of the Returning Officer because both refer to the recent successful, and convincing, election of Barbara Ashwood. Barbara replaces Donald Adey who went walkabout in Scotland and didn’t exactly enhance the image of a councillor by his behaviour.

Now a public question and the evergreen Anthony Carpen asks what the County Council can do to encourage more active democracy in Fenland where many seats were uncontested in the recent elations.

(Interestingly former CCC leader, and an ex-Fenland councillor himself, Martin Curtis has also raised this issue directly with Fenland District Council).

There’s also a petition about Castle Mound asking that it be made into a ‘town green’. The petitioner is Isabel Lambourne. Unfortunately the petition has not reached the threshold to earn a council debate. Note that this is all about access to the Mound etc after ‘disposal’ of the Shire Hall site.

1110 and we move into the business part of the meeting. First the People Strategy which seems to be an incomplete document as it refers to plans not yet developed. Labour complains about the lack of involvement with unions, the absence of a commitment to pay a real living wage and the steady move of jobs to Peterborough. Lib Dems highlight the lack of detail/substance, any real idea about how to make CCC an attractive workplace and the absence of specific targets. First vote of the day carried 44 in favour (Tories and Labour) 15 abstentions (Lib Dems).

There’s now the regular Constitution & Ethics item. Largely a tidy up but suggests moving responsibility for electing the chairs of some committees from the commmittees themselves to Council etc. These are the ‘legislative’ committees like Audit & Accounts and Planning. They do not make policy. No matter, at the vote 40 for (Tories) and 17 against (Lib Dems and some others).

But before we can get into debate we have a handbags event with Labour councillors complaining that they were not invited to speak and the Tories complaining abut a Lib Dem councillor not standing up when speaking.

There seems to be another contentious proposal relating to Member Officer relationships. There’s a suggestion that members must inform officers about public meetings which seems to be a little OTT. There’s also concern that there’s no suggestion that training should take place at times convenient to councillors who have full time jobs. However it’s clearly not that contentious a proposal because we all vote for it.

1215 and we rattle through more administrative items before we get to the first motion of the day which relates to climate change and the need for a strategy. It’s proposed by the Tories and is long and wordy but doesn’t really commit Council to any specific action. There’s therefore a Lib Dem amendment (a) to acknowledge the current climate emergency, and (b) to involve members in the development of the proposed strategy.

The motion is introduced by council leader Steve Count who admits that he used to be a climate change denier. Susan van de Ven moves the Lib Dem amendment to much applause from the ER people in the gallery.

Rather surprisingly the Tories seem disinclined to support the amendment whereas others, Lib Dems and Labour, are emphasising the urgency of the matter. Methinks that this motion is only strong enough to look good but still weak enough to enable unreconstructed Tory deniers to be whipped to support it. Or am I being too cynical?

It seems like the amendment is going to be lost so the mover asks if she can introduce a new one. She can but it’ll be subject to Chair’s discretion and agreement of the mover of the main motion

Amendment is lost 25 to 32 (Tories). Shouts of ‘shame’ from the gallery!

Now Susan asks to go forward with just the part of her amendment which refers to acceptance of the climate change emergency only.

Chair says OK so does Steve Count so the motion gets amended but to my mind the bite of the amendment has now been lost because the target date in the original amendment has been lost.

1320 and we’re now debating the main motion. Nothing new and we all finally support the modified motion at 1400.

1430 and we’re back again with a motion on air pollution. It’s good but toothless so I propose an amendment to add specific deliverables. Surprisingly although the guy who moved the main motion agrees with me he refuses to accept and opposes, along with the other Tories, my amendment. Amendment lost 22 to 31 (Tories).

(There’s a pattern. The Tories never accept amendments no matter how sensible/rational. I suspect it’s a matter of them wanting to show who’s boss)

The main debate adds little and the motion is approved unanimously by acclamation.

1515 and it’s questions for the Combined Authority and a pointed question about the appointment of yet another (ex) East Cambs councillor to a salaried post at the Authority.

There’s one written question which is answered in the same way.

There’s now the need to clear the chamber! We’re going into private session, more government in secrecy. Not good and I’d be inclined to vote against so doing.

There are speakers against the idea mainly because this is such a significant decision in which the public has a keen interest. We vote! Carried 31 (Tories) to 14 (Lib Dems) with 7 abstentions (Labour).

Now for the secret bit so my reporting has to stop. However for a feel for what went on click here. I’ve now been cleared to release a copy of my speech (click here) and there’s also been a press announcement (click here).

It’s been a long day and we’re finally out at 1645.

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