Sunday, 17 November 2013

Party Politics Thanet style

Whilst not strictly Pleasurama it is clear that dealing with the history of TDC's dealings with SFP and the public have an explanation in the lack of an open dialogue that is clear and transparent. This is apparent in this report which I reproduce in full and which will be debated on Thursday 21st 2013 in the Standards Committee.

1.  Introduction and Background
1.1.  The Localism Act 2011 changed the way in which complaints regarding the
behaviour and activities of elected Councillors were handled. In particular,
chapter  7  of  the  legislation  sets  out  the  responsibilities  of  Councils  to
“…promote  and  maintain  high  standards  of  conduct  by  members…”.   The
legislation  disbanded  the  national  Standards  Board,  and  removed  from
Councils  formal  sanctions  that  were  available  for  breach of  the  Council’s
Code of Conduct.
1.2.  Thanet District Council opted to retain a Standards Committee. Its remit is
reproduced  on  the  Council’s  website,  and  includes  the  following:
“To  promote  and maintain  high standards  of conduct  by  Members  and coopted  Members  of  the  District  Council  and  to  make  recommendations  to
Council on improving standards”
This  report  is  presented  by  the  independent  members  of the  Standards
Committee with this remit in mind.
1.3.  There are four independent members of the Standards Committee of Thanet
District  Council.   Independent  members  of  the  Standards  Committee  are
drawn from the general public, and were appointed bythe Council following
recruitment campaigns. The current independent members of the Standards
Committee  bring  with  them  a  wealth  of  experience,  gained  in  professional
service and other arenas. This experience includes extensive management
and leadership gained both in the public and private sector, including District
Councils, membership of the local bench, and other voluntary organisations.
Independent  members  have  also  severally  been  trained  in  mediation  and
have  extensive  experience  of  delivering  training  in  a number  of  different
sectors. All the independent members of the Standards Committee aim to
utilise their experience in the service of the Council.
1.4.  At a recent meeting of the independent members of the Standards Committee,
concern was raised regarding the conduct of councillors andthe perceptions
of that conduct by members of the public.
2.  The Current Situation
2.1.  Thanet District Council is a ‘hung’ council with a fine balance of power. This
political situation brings with it a number of practical challenges.
2.2.  As a political organisation, it is not surprising  that party politics are obvious,
not just in the debating chamber at Full Council, butalso in communications
between elected members and the local press, and in other fora including,
but not limited to, the use of social media (blogs, twitter, facebook and videoblogs (vlogs)).
2.3.  The  conviction  of  a  former  Councillor  has  had  an  adverse  effect  on  the
perception  of  the  Council  in  the  mind  of  the  public,  and  this  presents
challenges for all members of the Council.
2.4.  Recent  decisions  made  by  full  Council  have  sought  to  control  the  ways  in
which  moving  images  of  the  Council’s  meetings  are  produced  and
disseminated. This has led to the ejection of a memberof the public from a
meeting of full Council.
2.5.  Recent comments made by some  Councillors towards members of the public
in public meetings have been less than respectful, and have led on occasion,
to the making of personal threats.
2.6.  There have been suggestions that some Councillors have stated in public that
they  intend  not  to  comply  with  the  democratically  agreed  decisions  of  the
Council,  presumably  in  the  full  knowledge  that  there  are  no  meaningful
sanctions that can be taken against them. While the independent members
of the Standards Committee have no doubt that these actions are taken with
the noblest of intentions, it does make a mockery of the rules of the Council
by  which  all  Councillors  are  held  to  account  and  suggests  that  some
Councillors, at least, are not prepared to comply with the Code of Conduct.
2.7.  There have been occasions on which Councillors have stated that they do not
intend  to  comply  with  the  outcome  of  Standards  hearings,  again  because
there are no meaningful sanctions that can apply.
2.8.  It is suggested by the independent members of theStandards Committee that
the Council is held in low regard by the public. An,admittedly unscientific,
assessment  of  comments  made  (in  the  press,  local  bloggers,  twitter,
personal conversations, by local interest groups etc) suggest that there is a
local suspicion of secrecy, corruption and distance between the Council as it
is perceived in the offices in Cecil Square, the reality of people’s lives and
the needs of the district.
2.9.  Independent  members  of  the  Standards  Committees  have  observed  the
demeanour  of  Councillors  within  the  Council  chamber  towards  each  other,
and  towards  members  of  the  public.   The  perception  of the  independent
members  of  the  Standards  Committee  is  that  of  demonstrable  distrust
between members, and between the councillors and the  general public. On
some occasions this distrust has taken the form of outright hostility.
2.10.  Independent  members  of  the  Standards  Committee have  witnessed  many
personal  attacks  taking  place  between  members  during  debates,  and  from
their  position  in  the  public  gallery  have  heard  the  overwhelming  view  from
members  of  the  public  that  the  councillors  are  not  serving  the  public  by
whom they were elected. Indeed, attendance at Councilmeetings is seen by
some to be a form of entertainment.
2.11.  Correspondence published in the local press, including official press releases
and the columns written by the leaders of the main political parties, include
personal  attacks,  between  members,  and  on  some  occasions  towards
individual members of the public.
2.12.  The  overall  impression  of  the  independent  members  of  the  Standards
Committee is of a Council whose members are distrustfulof each other, and
of the public. There appears to be a ‘siege mentality’, which in the view of
the  independent  members  of  the  Standards  Committee  contributes  to
behaviour which falls short of the Council’s stated aim of “high standards of
conduct”.
3.  Standards Committee Input
3.1.  Standards  of  behaviour  are,  and  have  been,  subjects  for  discussion  at  the
Council’s  Standards  Committee  at  which  there  has  been  a general
consensus that some kind of action is necessary. However, the independent
members of the Standards Committee have seen little, if any, evidence that
this  consensus  is  repeated  outside  the  committee  meeting.   Certainly,  no
changes in behaviour have been observed by the independent members of
the Standards Committee.
3.2.  Independent members of the Standards Committee  are of the strong opinion
that  the  low  public  perception  of  the  Council  is  the  responsibility  of  all  the
members  of  the  Council,  and  is  not  limited  to  those  whose  names  and
profiles  appear  in  the  local  media  or  those  against  whom  complaints  are
recorded. The Council has the appearance of a dysfunctional organisation
whose  behaviour  and  internal  squabbles  adversely  affect  the  delivery  of
services, capital projects etc to the residents of the local district.
4.  Respect
4.1.  The independent members of the Standards Committee are of the mind that
this situation cannot be allowed to continue if Thanet  District Council and its
Councillors  are  to  be  viewed  as  true  leaders  within  the  District.   The
dominant view of the Council and its elected members  must be rehabilitated
as a matter of urgency.
4.2.  In particular, while the Council is a political organisation, by the very dint of
local politics and it being a creature of statute, its  primary objective must be
the delivery of services to the district. Elected officials are accountable to the
public that they serve.
4.3.  In order to be able to do this, it is the view of the independent members of the
Standards Committee that all Councillors should demonstrate respect in all
aspects of their work, including (but not limited to) their dealings with each
other,  with  Officers  of  the  Council,  and  crucially  with  the  public.
Demonstration of respect is, currently, lacking.
5.  Options
5.1.  The  Standards  Committee  is  invited  to  consider  the situation  as  above.
There  are  many  options  open  to  the  Council  to  address such  a  situation,
including  the  use  of  external  resources  to  review  the  efficiency  and
effectiveness of the ways in which elected members conducttheir business.
However, such an option would entail financial considerations, which are not
realistic in the current financial climate.
5.2.  The Committee may like to consider options as follows:
5.2.1.  No action– that the current situation be allowed to continue. In the opinion
of the independent members of the Standards Committee, this option carries
considerable  risk,  both  in  the  public  perception  of  the  Council,  and  in  the
ability of the Council to deliver effectively its obligations to the public. This
option is not recommended by the independent members  of the Standards
Committee.
5.2.2.  Action taken within political groups– that the leaders of political groups
take action to address the behaviour of their members. This option carries a
risk of a lack of consistency across the Council.
5.2.3.  Training– that the Standards Committee consider the desirability of training
for all elected members of the Council. However, for  training to be effective,
it  is  suggested  by  the  independent  members  of  the  Standards  Committee
that it should be compulsory. There are also financial implications associated
with  this  option,  although  some  training  can  be  delivered  by  resources
already within the Council.

I hope and pray that members of the Council take note of this report and don't assume it is all about Cllr Worrow and Cllr Driver. I have been at many meetings and listened to the points scoring, the reliance on old history and the fear that permeates the Chamber when past corruption is mentioned.

Thanet Council should be statesmen like and work TOGETHER for the people of Thanet not their own petty power plays

3 comments:

Barry James said...

Chris Wells on ITWT
"If I had an immediate ready answer we would not be having this debate. If you are asking me for a plan then the following steps need to be made. Firstly there have to be a series of confidence building measures from the party leaderships. Restraining themselves and rebuking their group members when they step out of line. Second a more open and transparent governance style so the public regain some confidence. Thirdly penalty for failure, not clinging on despite failure. Fourthly debating policy not national politics. Its not as much fun but more necessary. Fifthly open cross party cooperation in committees and fewer whipped votes. Those who can't countenance this must go. Otherwise the council itself may be forced to go as all public confidence drains away."

Barry James said...

Anon without some proof of your allegation your comment will be treated as spam

Anonymous said...

I like what you say Barry I have long thought that the tribal gang like political activities of the
warring parties each trying to score brownie points off each other is dragging Thanet down in the last war all parties pulled the same way on the rope it was the only way to win that should be the aim now to pull together to reinvigorate Thanet not like the crew of a ship fighting one another while the course heads for the rocks.
Stargazer.