Another month and another County Council Zoom meeting

You’d think we would be getting pretty adept at this by now but you still get people with difficulties get into the meeting. I’m in early today so I get to witness the last minute pleas for help. The big problem is that the meeting is set up with personal invites to enable voting so we can’s simply share sign in details.

1029 and we’re missing lots of councillors. Why don’t we just start? We do.

We’re off and the register is called. I leant from last time and wait until Hudson before unmuting. And I remember to make my Zoom window active so that I can simply press the space bar to so do. Amidst the boring and repetitive ‘present’ it’s good to hear one councillor simply say ‘good morning’. There are multiple absentees including several Tories but I reckon they still have a majority.

1039 and we’re still debating who is and is not here. The situation is not helped by at least one councillor appearing with the name of another.

At last we run through the boilerplate and then we get the Pension Fund annual report for noting. We do.

There are now a series of motions of doubtful value because most simply call on the Council to call on others to do something.

The first is from the Lib Dems seconded by Labour and addresses the increasing underfunding of education for children with special educational needs. It calls on the Council to write to parents drawing their attention to the situation and asking them to bring it to the attention of their MPs. There’s an amendment from the Tories which weakens this action by calling for the Council to write directly to the MPs.

First vote of the day and three councillors cause problems so their votes will need to be ‘corrected’. Amendment is carried 34 to 16 with 4 abstentions. However even the weakened motion makes a point, albeit it’s a letter writing motion, so the motion as amended is carried unanimously without a formal vote.

The next motion is from the Lib Dems and relates to support for people suffered hardship because of Covid. It’s another letter writing motion but because the situation is rapidly changing it is withdrawn.

Motion number three is from Labour seconded by the Lib Dems and asks for another letter to be written in support of restoring powers to local authorities regarding the allocation of school funding. It’s a good sense motion and the Tories say they’ll support, there’s no amendment, and it is carried unanimously.

At last we have a nuts and bolts motion which calls on the Council to do more than write a letter. It’s a Lib Dem motion, seconded by the Tories, calling for the Council to gather evidence regarding the adverse impact (delays and cost overruns) of underground and inadequately documented utilities on highways projects and to recommend ways in which such can be avoided in future. Another motion carried unanimously.

Finally another active motion and one that promises a little active debate. It’s a Tory motion about ant-Semitism and you wonder if maybe it’s motivated by a desire to embarrass the Labour group. There are two amendments, one each from Lib Dems and Labour, both of which attempt to widen the motion and to make it more active. The former is rather long and the Tories don’t support it because they say it dilutes the original motion. One breaks cover and links Jeremy Corbyn to the motion.

Then we get into a long debate about the meaning of ‘tolerance’. The Lib Dems insist that it’s too passive, we need to be positive and welcoming of all minorities. One Tory quotes from Roget’s Thesaurus. I debunk his point by reading from the Concise Oxford Dictionary and then quote Edmund Burke ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ in calling for a more active motion (click here for my intervention). Lib Dem amendment lost 24 to 30 with 1 abstention.

1220 and that seems to have exhausted the Chair who now calls a 10 minute break.

Now we’re onto the Labour amendment which attracts little debate but is nonetheless lost 23 to 30 with 1 abstention. Looks like somebody has already gone home virtually speaking.

Now back to the main motion but we’re all a little deflated now. Tories defending their position and claiming anyone who disagrees is acting ‘politically’ and Labour and Lib Dems repeating the thinking behind their amendments with a couple of speakers competing to demonstrate their ‘tolerance’. Despite the heat of the earlier debate clearly councillors felt that the motion (unamended) was better than nothing and therefore passed it unanimously.

After motions it’s now time for questions of the Combined Authority. There’s one broad question about the Authority’s financial management and record in bringing projects forward. An immediate response is declined and the Council’s rep on the Authority (Cllr Count) expresses the opinion that financial management is sound.

There are no questions for Combined Authority scrutiny

There’s finally a question for the Fire Authority about its plans for bonfire night. A comprehensive response is given but then the Fire Service generally runs itself competently and is generally well respected.

And before we finish there are answers to written questions about the approach to controlling Covid at the universities and the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Group. The former (click here) is of particular interest in the current climate.

And that’s it. At about 1345 we’re through.

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