Full Council: a virtual meeting

This may not be the ‘new normal’ but it’s at least normal for the time being. I’ve already enjoyed multiple Zoom meetings but this will be the biggest so far with probably 70 plus attendees including both Officers and Members.

We’re all required to check in early so that everyone can make sure that they know what to do and it’s a tad chaotic. Several councillors are trying to change the rules and several others don’t really understand what’s going on. What’s meant to be ‘intuitive’ is not the case for everyone.

Click here to see the meeting on YouTube

It’s 1025 and we’re short of one councillor, a minute to go now and that’s still not resolved. Chair exercises his discretion and delays the start to sort this out.

We’re going to start with a roll call, like taking the register in school. For this Zoom is operating in gallery mode, after that it will just show the person who’s speaking. Actually that’s what we’ve been told but we stay in gallery mode for the entire meeting.

1032 and we’re off but before we get into the agenda we get a long preamble from the Chair who thanks everyone for what they’ve been doing during the shutdown. He then explains how the meeting is going to operate: no points of order, no prayers, no votes if they can be avoided, no actual presentation of public questions or petitions.

Now the roll call and I successfully stay alert and call out ‘yes’ when my name is called. Now I’m on mute and can manage my two screens to watch the meeting, read the papers on-line and keep this blog going at the same time.

This is the annual meeting of the council so the first items on the agenda are the election (actually it’s re-election because, by convention, these posts are held for two consecutive years) of the Chair and Vice-chair. Fair does the current Chair (Mac MacGuire) hasn’t done a bad job. We then get to hear about the election of a new Lib Dem councillor: Peter McDonald has taken the Duxford division vacated by a Tory councillor who’s moved. This is reinforced by item 5 ‘report of the returning officer’. If we’d been in the chamber we’d have cheered!

Public questions are rationed today. Just four are allowed. The first relates to the flats upstairs of Milton Road Library which are still vacant. The answer is to pass the buck to This Land.

Question 2 asks about simple things the council can do to facilitate walking and cycling and the answer is an ‘assurance’ that CCC is already doing a lot (there’s a relevant motion later in the meeting).

Number 3 relates to the Council’s climate change strategy and suggests that it is inadequate. It asks that imports be included in the Council’s calculation of carbon emissions. The answer when you unpick it simply says that we’re following the rules.

Finally another climate question and specifically about the emissions from peat. The answer seems to be that we are aware of the issue but don’t know what to do. Amazing statement that ‘Fenland is the breadbasket of England’. News to me.

There’s a petition but since it relates to item 12 it will be raised then.

Then there’s good news. A need to extend the ‘6 mouth rule’ which allows councillors not to be active if they are ill is no more. The move to virtual meetings makes it possible for the councillor concerned to become active.

Now for the pay policy statement and it’s pointed out that the ‘partnership’ with Peterborough results in more highly paid staff but that we only pay for a half of them. However we seem to have a problem with our ‘gender pay gap’ and there’s no data on any BAME pay gap.

1115 and people seem to be dropping out, videos being turned off. But Zoom is showing 67 continuing participants.

Item 11 is the climate change strategy. Some good work has been done on this and it’s an example of decent cross party working (although Labour and the Lib Dems have done most of the work).

It’s nearly 1200 and we’re now talking about the changes to the constitution. And first because it’s relevant we hear about the petition which is against the abolition of the Cambridge Joint Area Committee. There’s much debate with Cambridge and near Cambridge councillors speaking against the proposals to wind-up CJAC and withdraw from the Cambridge Fringes Joint Development Control Committee. There were arguments in favour of rejecting the proposals but I argued against supporting them because no evidence had been presented in their favour. Click here for my contribution to the debate.

Tories sadly seem intent on going ahead and voting this though. One speaker spoke of an anti-Cambridge sentiment. The vote on the commendations is split. a-c and f+g are accepted, d+e are done by a formal vote. Lib Dems and Labour against, Tories for. Indies split one against, one for and one abstain. That item’s done in just under an hour. There are two other constitution items which go through with broad support.

No break yet and a few largely administrative items including ‘outside bodies’. There are generally no speeches and no disagreements but I do speak about This Land and the failure of CCC’s nominated non-exec to attend any board meetings (there have been 12 during the year). Click here to hear what I said.

I clearly struck a nerve because multiple Tories leapt to explain why it was OK for a non-exec to not attend board meetings.

1300 and we’re promised a break after the next two items. The first is about Combined Authority committees and includes the bizarre calculations which result in the Tory membership on the Audit & Governance Committee being rounded up from 3.08 to 4 at the expense of an Independent member. The second is the calendar for the year and maybe a reminder to me that it’s my last year.

Time for a break and now a couple of motions which should be non-contentious. The first is one of those feel good motions which actually doesn’t achieve very much. It’s from the Lib Dems and asks for the council to thank all those who’ve been doing extra to get us through the difficulties of the pandemic. Unusually the Tories neither amend nor attempt to hi-jack it. It goes through unopposed in the spirit intended.

Motion number 2 is also from the Lib Dems and urges the council to be proactive in implementing pragmatic post-Covid highways improvements to prioritise cycling and walking. Remarkably the Tories have asked to second this one and again there’s no attempt to hi-jack it. So this one goes through unopposed as well.

It should be downhill from here with written questions but then there’s a potentially confidential item about LGSS. If we are to go confidential then Zoom will be shutdown and we’ll have to reconvene on Microsoft Teams which is and will be a pain. However we agree not to betray any confidences so we stay on Zoom. This results in debate about the ‘future operating model for LGSS’ being rather limited. No objections so all done. Meeting closed at 1420.

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