Ever wondered what a Borough Councillor's role entails?

Ever wondered what a Borough Councillor's role entails?
I did! I was elected as a Councillor for the Lynn South & West ward of the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk on 5th May 2011.

A little bit about me:
I have lived in South Lynn for 7 years with my wife and work locally for the Norfolk Primary Care Trust as an IT Manager.

I am a Labour Councillor and whilst the local Labour group made some encouraging gains in the May elections (moving from 4 councillors to 13) we are still very much a minority opposition as the Tories hold 42 of the 64 council seats.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Pedestrian Crossing for Poppyfields West Lynn Proposal

The King's Lynn Area Consultative Committee (KLACC) tonight decided not to support a Parish Partnerships scheme to provide a crossing for residents of Poppyfields in West Lynn.

The proposal included dropped kerbs with tactile pavements further south than the current dropped kerb crossing at the bus stop on Clenchwarton Road and a pedestrian refuge to enable a small number of pedestrians to cross the road in two stages.

As ward councillor for South and West Lynn, I was torn by this proposal as it is encouraging to see that at long last something could happen to help make crossing safer for residents of Poppyfields but I did not think that the proposed measures went far enough to improve safety for pedestrians at what is quite a considerable cost of £20,000.

It was clear to me that the proposal was being put before the KLACC meeting tonight in support of a governance process, to ensure that funding could be agreed before the end of March 2017 and therefore meet the deadline for inclusion 17/18 programme of works but this is a very serious issue for residents of Poppyfields and I argued that this was the wrong proposal at the wrong time, asking that it is looked at in more detail in future, with the intention of providing a much safer, albeit more expensive crossing. In my view, because of the nature of the road, it is desirable to implement a crossing that will force traffic to slow and stop to allow pedestrians to cross. A controlled crossing (with traffic lights) is accepted as being too expensive but a zebra crossing, either on a raised table or otherwise might be feasible, having been estimated at 'up to' £60,000 (with Parish Partnerships funding being capped at £50,000).

What was astounding was that it seems to be accepted from all quarters that the mean speed of vehicles travelling along this stretch of road is much higher than the 30mph speed limit (having been reduced from 40mph at about the time that Poppyfields was built) and the County Council representative pointed out that guidelines state that if 85% of vehicles are travelling at 35mph or more (which would not be surprising for this stretch of road) a zebra crossing, and indeed a refuge style crossing, would be ruled out - effectively, if vehicles are travelling too quickly, we cannot put in a measure which will make it safer to cross and slow vehicles down in one stroke.

Just a mile or so further down the road from West Lynn is Clenchwarton, which I pointed out benefits from a 20mph zone, belisha beacons marking the start and end of the 20mph zone, two raised table traffic calming measures either side of a raised table zebra crossing and the residents of West Lynn deserve more than the refuge crossing being proposed.

Poppyfields is a residential development inhabited mainly by young families and these families have no option but to cross Clenchwarton Road in order to reach the West Lynn School. Anecdotally, residents have admitted that they would rather drive their children to the school than take their chances crossing the road, creating traffic problems outside the school at the beginning and end of the school day and storing up public health problems for years to come so I will continue to lobby for a full zebra crossing at this location to support the residents of West Lynn.

The report considered by tonight's KLACC meeting can be found here

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The day democracy died...

At the Borough's Annual Council this evening, members voted to change the constitution of the council such that the opposition's voice in the council's processes, most notably council scrutiny, is effectively silenced. I have written before (see http://ow.ly/2YGDK4) about the Leader's intention to change the proportionality of Cabinet Scrutiny Committee and had been prepared to speak against this proposal this evening. 

What happened next was that the Leader , aided by his erstwhile deputy and abetted by the rest of the massed Tory ranks, curtailed any debate about the proposal before any was really allowed to take place. Using the constitution and rules of debate, before anyone else was given the opportunity to add to the debate (the Labour Group leader was given the opportunity to speak briefly), Cllr Daubney moved that the motion be put and Cllr Long seconded, meaning no further debate could take place. 

Hardly a democratic way to behave when bringing forward a proposal which restricts the opportunity for democratic input from those opposed to the administration but I suppose not surprising given the past history of this autocratic group.

For the record, my speech against the proposal is included below:

Thank you Mr Mayor 

As many members will know I have grave concerns about the proposal to change the proportionality of Cabinet Scrutiny Committee and the effect that this will have on the credibility and accountability of this council as a whole at a time when these could be described as fragile at best.

However, having looked at this proposal very carefully (wanting to make sure that there was no clause included proposing exile to a Gulag in the event of dissent), I am minded not to propose a specific amendment to that particular section of the report - but to ask members to consider voting against the proposal as a whole. 

The reason for doing so is that it seems like madness to me to propose and make changes to the panel and scrutiny structure, ahead of a planned review which will take place this summer - something that appears to be acknowledged in the report insomuch as having created two panels out of the existing REC structure, they will continue to meet as a single body, being chaired on an alternate basis until the review has concluded.    

Further, it is worrying that this proposal has been brought as a response to a peer review that has not been widely shared  amongst members (new and old) and as a proposal that appears to have been rushed through as some sort of supreme executive power, without being given the benefit of comment, scrutiny, development etc of the councils existing structure of panels, cabinet & cabinet scrutiny before landing in front of members at this council meeting.

Whilst it should be acknowledged that the party opposite have increased their majority in this chamber at the recent election, there are still enough councillors in opposition to allow for input into policy development and proper scrutiny, reflecting the views of our borough's residents who did not vote for conservative candidates at that election.

Following the meeting, one prominent Tory asked me whether I 'really believed that we would allow a debate on a Civic evening', referring to the fact that the Annual Council is usually a ceremonial event, dedicated to the election and appointment of the Mayor for the forthcoming municipal year. My answer was and is simple... 'If you do not want to debate the proposal at a Civic evening, do not put the proposal forward at a Civic evening', further proof, if it were needed, that this administration is not interested in serving the principles of democracy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

This borough is sleepwalking into a local dictatorship

So the dust has settled on a disappointing election campaign, I've got over the nerve wracking count and the fact that I squeezed into office by just three votes and... then the bombshell was dropped. The council leader has decided to put forward a proposal that will see the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee changed from a body that specifically eschews the political proportionality rule to one that is made up on a proportionate basis.

The point of the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee is to assure the council and the people it represents that the decisions being taken by the Cabinet are given full consideration by elected representatives that have not been involved in making the decision - accepting that the current administration enjoys a huge majority at the council it is important that the decisions it makes are properly scrutinised and it is important that this is done by the opposition. Changing the proportionality of this body not only drastically reduces the number of opposition councillors entitled to sit on the committee but almost guarantees that any recommendation made by the committee can be voted down by a Conservative majority.

This is just a further erosion of the principles of democratic process in recent times as the same administration has:

Changed the constitution to remove the requirement for vice chairs of policy development, overview and scrutiny panels to be drawn from opposition councillors. This was done under the guise of the pool of opposition councillors being too small (when there were just 10) and was followed by rejection of a request to revert to this requirement when the pool of opposition councilllors doubled in size after the 2011 elections.
Selected non-councillors to represent the council on outside bodies, ahead of sitting opposition  councillors from wards that bear the focus of those outside bodies.
Removed councillors from outside bodies because they had the audacity to resign from the conservative group.
Controlled the supposedly non-political posts of Mayor & Deputy Mayor in each of the four years following the 2011 elections, despite the opposition making up at least one quarter of the council.

I am not sure why an administration with a majority of 38 councillors over and above the number of opposition members seems to be running scared of the idea of scrutiny; perhaps we opposition councillors should take it as a compliment that recent scrutiny has been too effective and made the cabinet and administration a little too uncomfortable.

I, for one, will be voting against the proposals and will be urging as many of my fellow councillors to do the same. If you are a resident of the Borough, I would urge you to contact your local councillor(s) and ask them to vote against it too.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Weekly Blog 17th - 23rd February:

No Weekly blog for the week commencing 10th February as there was not a great deal happening which gave me the opportunity to concentrate on the day job before a couple of pretty intensive weeks in terms of Council work as meetings are ramped up ahead of the Full Council Meeting at the end of the month.

Extra Meeting of the Labour Group 

The Labour Group held an extra meeting to discuss alternative budget proposals to be put forward at the Council's budget setting meeting on 27th February.

It was agreed that a proposal to re-introduce a pest control service would be suggested as an amendment, to be funded from part of a budget that has been set aside for 'Car Parking Promotions'. The Car Parking Promotions budget enables the Borough Council to run several different types of promotion throughout the year; in the last year there have been promotions such as free parking on a Wednesday during school holidays, Park for £1 from 3pm to midnight on Tuesdays etc. The idea is that the promotion will draw shoppers into the town centre to boost the town centre economy. Following a series of questions at Full Council and direct to Council Officers, it has become apparent that there is no qualitative or quantitative evidence to show whether the promotions have had the desired effect or not. Our proposal would use half of the £200,000 budget to provide a limited pest control service (dealing just with rats and mice), free to Borough residents (but with an abuse of service charge for 'repeat offenders'). The remainder of the budget would be left to use for car parking promotions over the next year.

Licensing Appeals Board

An uncomfortable morning as I sat on a 3 person Licensing and Appeals Board which was asked to decide whether a taxi driver's combined hackney carriage and private hire licence should be revoked. 

I will not go in to too much detail here but an appeals board is asked to judge whether they are satisfied that someone is a 'fit and proper' person to hold such a licence. There is no judicially approved test to make that judgement so we are asked to consider the following statement:
‘Would you (as a member of the Licensing & Appeals Board charged with the ability to authorise a combined driver’s licence) allow your son or daughter, spouse or partner, mother or father, grandson or grand-daughter or any other person for whom you care, to get into a vehicle with this person alone?’ 

For me, this issue is linked back to one of the first meetings I attended as a Councillor and subsequent press release as the complaint that gave rise to the appeals board hearing might have been avoided if the rules around granting of licences were a little more rigorous. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Weekly Blog: 3rd - 9th February

North West Norfolk CLP AGM

The Annual General Meeting of the North West Norfolk Constutuency Labour Party was held at the community centre in South Lynn, very close to home for me.

We heard an interesting presentation from Chris Lindley of Churches Together about the effects of changes to the welfare system to people of King's Lynn & West Norfolk. Some interesting statistics about the use of food banks, homelessness and sanctions being imposed on benefit claimants by the Job Centre for seemingly unfair, often trivial reasons. Examples would be the withdrawal of benefit payments for 1 month because a claimant did not make an appointment when their bus had been cancelled, appointments being made deliberately early so as to prevent claimants from rural localities reaching town due to lack of public transport and in one instance, for failing to keep an appointment with a named advisor because that advisor was on sick leave at the time of the appointment (which the claimant turned up for and was see. By another advisor)

Labour Group meeting with Finance Team

A delegation of Labour Group Councillors met with senior members of the Council's finance team to look at areas of the proposed budget for next year that could be changed and put forward by the  labour group as an alternative or as amendments at the Council's budget setting meeting.

It is thought that increasing Council tax would not be a popular move so it is difficult to find areas of the budget that could be changed to accommodate any alternative ideas as the Council's budget does not run at a surplus at the moment. Nonetheless, there are some areas of non-essential expenditure that could be looked at to suggest providing some alternatives that might be of more use to a greater number of people in the borough.

Much of the discussion centers around the council tax support scheme which will see many claimants of council tax benefit have to pay 25% of their council tax bill from April onwards. The Labour Group did not vote for this scheme at January's full council meeting but as it was voted through by the administration it is not possible to change this year's scheme, even if money were found in the budget. It would cost a relatively small amount (between £100k -£200k) for the Borough to remove this requirement for council tax claimants but as Council Tax is divided up between other agencies (County Council & Police Authority) it would have an impact on their income too - for the County Council, to the tune of around £1m, at a time when County services are being stripped bare.

Notwithstanding this, it appears that other authorities in the county, notably Great Yarmouth and Norwich have managed to keep their claimant contribution to less than 10% in their schemes which will also have had a significant impact on the County Council's budget.