Well, that was a slightly different style of meeting of the full elected Medway Council (apart from a few absentees, as usual), though with the familiar ingredients thrown in for good measure. I suppose it wouldn't have been the same without them...
A minor difference from the norm was that no-one was mentioned by the mayor as attending from the independent members' conduct panel (or whatever it is currently called). It has been a long time since that last happened.
The first noteworthy change within the agenda itself, which I had already realised from the published documents, was the public questions item. Although there were more than usual these days (twenty in all, most with a supplementary question, as we found out on the evening), they were mostly genuine questions rather than the usual 'manufactured' ones.
There were a couple of those – where the unpublished supplementary question was blatantly politically-loaded – most were not. We did have several questions regarding the Rochester Airport plan, but this has come about as a result of deliberate scaremongering from those who have for many years intended that the airport be closed. Again, a couple of those were politically-loaded in the supplementary questions, so it wasn't as 'clean' as it ought to have been.
On that issue I again recommend to the doubters about the council's plans for the airport to check out what has happeed with other small airports who have already followed a similar path. Do they have concerns or complaints? I think they'd find that, even in leafy Surrey (try Fairoaks), the answer is near-enough 'no'...
The Council Leader's report covered education and employment opportunities, economic development and growth, health and well-being, so-called payday lending, children’s services improvement and of course there was provision to debate the decisions made by the Cabinet in its three meetings since the last Full Council.
I shan't go through all of these, and will mention only the economic growth which is a real success story in Medway, where we have become the focus of interest for a number of other councils in this region. As with the Thames Gateway regeneration, where other councils adopted the Medway Model, so it seems other councils are again possibly considering learning from our success and how we achieved it.
Later in the meeting, the Cabinet member for this area of work briefly listed nine successes from around the borough, with their increases in turnover (amounts and percentages). This was derided by the Labour members (and that was cheered by their sycophants in the public gallery) by labelling it as 'profit', showing their complete lack of understanding of where job creation comes from in the case of existing employers. More turnover means expansions which broadly means more employees. There are now more jobs in Medway now than before – a lot more!
Anyone with even the beginning a clue understands all of that – but not the dimwit Lefties, it seems. Once again, they have shown how completely unfit they are to handle the grown-ups' world, making even a pair of short planks look like Twiggy by comparison, so they must never be able to re-take control of either this council or national government. All voters, take note!
Overview and Scrutiny activity was largely unremarkable this time round, and there was nothing that really stands out in my mind as having separate significance to what was dealt with elsewhere within the agenda and during the meeting.
Questions from members was also relatively low-key; and this was especially surprising as there were two members of the media at the Press table, along with (as usual) an appropriate council officer. The questions from Labour members were obviously politically-loaded, but they gained no traction and were handled deftly in the responses, pulling the metaphorical rug out from under the Labour folk.
Of course councillor Tristan Osborne tried to make his supplementary question a party political broadcast, but he does that every single time he speaks at Council, so it became boring a long time ago, and most of us just switch off our attention for the duration. That way does at least avoid the embarrassment of watching a once-promising young activist waste his chances of being considered suitable for greater things in life.
That's not the way to be a good and useful councillor. For comparison, no-one ever switched off when I spoke at Council, though it didn't stop the 'usual suspects' within the Labour group hectoring and heckling me (as they were afraid of me and knew that my concise and authoritative contributions had traction: cause-and-effect) which just goes to show that it can be done well.
The reports included additions to the capital spend programme (there nearly always is at least one of those at any Medway Council meeting) and special urgency decisions during the sort-of summer recess. Here there was a match-up regarding a £2 million spend taken from the Housing Revenue Account. Labour didn't like this, even while understanding the (exceptional) reason for it. making a lot of noise over how this account was rent money that should go into the repairs and maintenance of Medway's remaining council-owned housing in the Gillingham and Rainham end of the borough.
If that were all that the account handled, that would be a reasonable and understandable stance – but, rightly or wrongly, it is more complex than that. In the end, it was accepted even by Labour's councillor Harriott (who managed to use his favourite word "disgrace" which, along with "disgraceful", features in at least one contribution to each Council meeting, and – you will see if you check – local newspaper interviews as well).
Most of the other reports went through largely undebated at any significant level – though it is to be noted in passing that Labour group leader councillor Maple three times called the Independent Renumeration Panel 'renumeration'. To be fair, so did council leader Rodney Chambers for a while, but a quiet word alerted him to it and he has got it right ever since. Hopefully this write-up will result in the same thing happening in Vince's case...
In the case of the three Motions, the first went through without an amendment to include a couple of other categories of those to be covered, but only after the legalities of the proposed amendment were (unsuccessfully) considered by the Monitoring Officer (the council's head of legal matters) and the Chief Executive. In the end, it was – correctly, in my view – decided to go with the original Morion, and for the Labour Group to augment it by submitting a formal proposal well enough in advance of the next Council meeting to have any legal loopholes or other issues sorted out before finalisation on that meeting's agenda document.
I was unable to work out exactly what happened on the second Motion, but that was largely because I couldn't understand what the proposer was saying. Thus I have to leave that one there.
The third Motion was the usual political beating-stick (and obviously so), proposed by the most usual of the 'usual suspects', councillor Mrs Murray. Yes, it had all the regular hallmarks, including the "sending a message" line that is always a complete give-away that this is being done purely for party political reasons.
This time it was what Labour call 'the living wage' to be applied to the council's staff who are currently paid below the outside-London rate that Labour have decreed. They stated that many other councils had already done this, citing by name Brighton & Hove and Islington. Big clue there, then...
Of course, with a fixed pot of money, this (originally costed by Labour at £170,000 per year, but councillor Brake spotted a planned expansion of the scheme that would take it into the millions) scheme would of necessity result in loss of posts.
It is the wrong way to do it; and the predictable sob stories from the proposer didn't make a great deal of sense, especially when one realises that it was the former Labour government that made life that much less affordable anyway – as I illustrated on this 'blog only a day or so ago (prices of bread and eggs). Some of what was being claimed, such as difficulty with retention of staff, was and is nothing to do with the pay level as such, and certainly not an erosion of pay set against costs.
For one thing, the councils in the 'collar' around London have long had difficulty with both recruitment and retention of (especially) staff such as social workers and planning officers because the London boroughs, easily commuted to and from, paid thousands of Pounds (not just a few hundred) extra in London Weighting, for which they receive additional central government grant to cover its cost. That has been know about for decades, and I learned of it soon after being elected to this Council some thirteen year ago. It's not new, and it's not relevant.
The real problem has been Labour's hiking of taxes of one kind or another, including their abolition of the 10p tax band. It is to the Coalition Government's credit that they are regularly raising the tax threshold, taking millions of low-paid workers out of tax altogether and significantly reducing the amount of Income Tax paid by those in other lower-income bands. Now that is the correct approach!
Unsurprisingly, the Motion was voted down, to cat-calls from the disgusting Labour group, as thye always do. I don't know whether they are just dim, but most people aren't really fooled by these entirely political, manipulative end-of-agenda Motions. Only their own cheerleaders in the claque they bring along to every Council meeting give the impression that they too haven't a clue, and go along with all the Labour group's guff. The rest of us live in the real world...