- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: Latest News
You may think it doesn’t take much to get me outraged. You may even be right. But Thursday’s Council “Emergency” Committee has angered plenty of other people. Let’s see why.
Firstly, Councillors were asked by Labour to make a commitment to continue to provide housing and care for street homeless people, in the event that the Government prematurely withdraws the temporary funding it has provided to date. The ruling Tory Group voted unanimously against making that commitment. Their arguments, such as they were, seem contradictory or plain false: apparently the efforts to support the homeless prior to the Covid19 crisis had all been going so well that no further commitment is needed – which I contend is blatantly false. Or, the short term Government funding, which is only for the rest of the year, is in place – in which case why not make the commitment requested? Or, most spuriously, if Canterbury were to succeed in re-housing all the homeless then somehow all the homeless people across the country would flock here – rather ignoring the fact that they don’t have money or transport, they prefer to stay around people and places they know, and that most other local authorities are trying hard to find a permanent solution for homelessness. In other words, the arguments against are spurious and the only conclusion one can reach is that the Tories aren’t serious about ending the blight of street homelessness.
That, however bad it may be, was not the worst piece of humbuggery from our rulers. They surpassed themselves when it came to question of money – specifically money going into their pockets for Chairing committees.
Residents with a keen memory will recall that it was only a month ago that the Tories voted to suspend all committee meetings except Planning and Licensing, replacing them with a single Emergency Committee, again voting together to block a Labour suggestion to keep the committees and meet virtually. Not unreasonably, you might think, Labour came forward to this week’s meeting with a proposal that the extra allowances which are paid to the Chairs (and vice chairs) of the suspended committee should likewise be suspended. That was proposed by Cllr Jean Butcher, herself normally the recipient of an allowance for chairing the Canterbury Area Forum.
The Tories, though, were having none of it.
It was a purely political move claimed one Councillor from the famously apolitical Conservative Party. It was unfair to the chairs of Planning and Licensing said another, seemingly incapable of reading the wording in the amendment which was specific about referring to suspended committees. Another Tory gratuitously attacked Cllr Butcher, suggesting that if she wasn’t doing any extra work (she does when the Forum sits, to be clear) then that was her problem. And yet another declared that the continuing payment is justified because the Chairs are continuing to meet with officers and develop plans for the future.
At which point, let’s hit the pause button for a moment to consider that.
Committees meet, in broad terms, to develop policy, scrutinise work, take decisions, and fix budgets. They provide transparency and democratic decision making in a public forum. If a small number of Councillors are working outside this system to do any of those things, that is profoundly wrong and utterly undemocratic. No-one has ever mentioned that this activity was going on. For the Tories to have voted to suspend the committees and then continue acting as if the Chairs had any valid reason to develop policy or monitor work is utterly hypocritical. It may even be illegal. It is certainly what Labour warned against in the debate which suspended the committees: a return to Executive style decision making and a quasi-Cabinet system – the system which residents successfully campaigned against five years ago because of its significant negative impact and lack of democratic accountability.
Thus in seeking to prevent one abuse of power through continuing the payment of responsibility allowances, Labour has uncovered another, possibly more fundamental breach of the democratic process.
Residents may well fix on the payments issue because it is such a clear breach of trust and an outstanding example of the “one rule for you, another for us” mentality which seems to have infected the Tory Party. Yet with our democratic institutions being almost systematically undermined by elected representatives who seem to consider themselves above the law and beyond reproach, such attitudes cannot be allowed to prevail. Labour will fight hard to bring this practice to an end, and to ensure that the people of our District are able to see and hear all the deliberations which impact on our lives.