Friday, 25 June 2010

First scrutiny panel

Well I've attended my first scrutiny panel what a varied agenda!  It's all publicly available if you want to see the reports that we had access to.

Disappointing that the 10:10 report was shunted to the end of the meeting, but it looks like the council has been making good progress on the target and also doing a lot to help others reach their goals.

On the performance indicators report the one I was most concerned about was the slippage on recycling, but I asked about the total amount sent to landfill, which is after all the more important thing, and was pleased to be told it was continuing to fall quite fast.  I wrote down that residual waste in the year that ended April 2010 was down 6.6% on the previous year.  We'll need to keep that up as a borough, and I will push for council policies that help us get there.

I was also able to agree with Cllr Emma Warman about improving communication on when road surfaces in general and potholes in particular were scheduled to be filled.  It's something I've been asked about quite a bit after the snowy weather, and while Reading may have done well compared to many other councils that's not really a comfort to people who are waiting for resurfacing.  Of course it's also an area where we may see cuts following the slash and burn of the budget.  At least with more reporting people will know how long they have to wait and as a councillor we won't have to keep asking about particular roads.

We also had a report on the Reading festival and what is being done to prevent the small number of people who spoilt it for everyone on Sunday night last year.  Paul Gittings and Martin Salter did a lot of work on this with the police and the festival organisers and the key thing to me is the massive increase in security and policing (paid for by the festival organisers) that has been agreed. 

Oh and we had to have a bit of silly games by the Conservatives/Lib dems playing didn't we?  Health warning This next paragraph is long and boring unless you are interested in politics with a small p...

We were told that our first item of business was to elect a chair but we weren't allowed to nominate anyone.  The Labour members had intended to nominate Paul, as former lead councillor for this area we felt he would be an experienced choice.  So instead of an open declaration of who was interested we had a list of all the councillors on the committee and had to vote for one of them.  I voted for Paul, then the secretary of the committee went and counted the votes, there were an equal number for Paul and Cllr Emma Warman, one of the Conservative members.  We weren't told how many votes there were for each member.  We were then told to vote again, and again the votes came out equal (I'm assuming 3, 3 with an abstention from Cllr Ricky Duveen, but who knows?!).  So we had to elect a chair just for the meeting.  One of the Conservatives initially nominated Cllr Warman, but sensibly Paul suggested that in order to cut short this farce we just had the previous Chair of committee take the Chair for the meeting, so Cllr Duveen it was. On taking the chair he suggested that we should have talked about it before the meeting and come up with an agreement.  That's as much as to say we should have done a deal away from the public eye?  Open and transparent?  More doublespeak I'm afraid...

I described it to my husband when I got home and we agreed that although the process was completely the opposite of open and transparent we couldn't really understand what the point of it was.  Secret candidates, secret ballot and a secret number of votes cast.  Utterly bizarre, and doesn't seem to be actually giving the coalition any advantage at all.  It's not a sensible way of carrying on scrutiny.

Anyway at least the rest of the meeting was worthwhile and focused.
 
PS I'm planning to write a report of my activities in June to keep anyone who is interested informed.