Sorry it is so long since my last report but under the new constitution at Notts County Council, formal meetings are like buses before the days of GPS timetabling.. you wait for ages and then they all come together. It is worth noting that there have been other meetings in the meantime, notably in June the Highways Review Panel met to report on progress. Progress seems to be excellent, proving that you need to spend money to get good public services.
However last month was the first meeting of the new Place Committee. This committee considers everything from civic celebrations to climate change, roads to registrations of births and deaths. This initial meeting involved a briefing from officers and then we suggested items for the future work programme. It was a short meeting, maybe because the chair seemed to have confused the time. I was very keen to know where we were with the new Climate Change team and I understood from the answer to my question that it hadn’t yet been appointed which was a bit disappointing- but see below.
The next day it was Full Council. This was the first under the new constitution, but the most notable change was the inclusion of an update report by Ben Bradley (leader of the Council and MP amongst other roles). It was nice to learn from the report that he also had time to visit the LGA conference. He didn’t manage to stay for the afternoon session of Full Council as he had to rush to Westminster at lunch time (the PM resigned that day, though I’m not sure why that meant he needed to be in London unless he wanted yet another job!).
In his report he told us that the Freeport is progressing – I’ve always been sceptical about the Freeport and I am now very worried about this scheme. We really need clear details, but I cannot see what good can come of this. The freeport may bring jobs to Rushcliffe, but will they really be decent jobs, and will they be at the expense of surrounding areas like North Nottinghamshire?
We had assumed that we would be able to ask questions on this report, but no, it was just a chance for Ben Bradley to do a short party pollical (or maybe self-promotional) broadcast. It is interesting to notice what was missing from the report. Nothing on the Highways Review and not a single word on the environment or climate change. The Tory leadership campaign and heat wave brought some terrifying views out of the woodwork. I do understand how people have different views on how to tackle problems and how this can build into culture wars especially in an intolerant environment. But I do not understand how people can deny the obvious: it feels like COVID denial has fed the fire of climate denial.
In terms of the main business of the meeting, there was a motion to congratulate NFFC on their promotion to the Premier League. I found myself in the dangerous situation of talking about Football (something I know little about), but I had to say something since the City Ground is in my division and I can hear the cheers and singing of Mull of Kintyre from my garden. I enjoy the buzz in the area when a match is on, and the club has brought joy to lots of people this year. It is great that NFFC is a so locally embedded including players who attended our local schools. I do know that football and cricket matches can cause a lot of disruption, and some people are very worried about how the club’s promotion and stadium extension may affect their ability to move around the area, but we also know that these venues do put us on the map and bring jobs to the area. I will be working with the Council and police over the next few months to try to make sure any problems are nipped in the bud so that Forest’s success is positive for us all.
Next, we celebrated the service of Anthony May who is leaving his post as Chief Executive of the council to work lead NUH Trust. I haven’t had many direct interactions with him, but it is clear that he has time for everyone in the organization, which a important to ensure transparency and accountability, and importantly staff seem to be happy and to support each other in their teams. He is moving to NUH and they will be lucky to benefit from his management style I think. I wish his replacement, Adrian Smith good luck in his new post.
There was a discussion about establishing of a Joint Integrated Care Partnership (ICP) Committee (between the City and County). This relates to the new system of Integrated Care Systems (ICS) which replace the Clinical Commissioning Groups that were established in 2013. It is a shame that the NHS cant go 10 years without a major reorganization; all these changes take time, effort and attention from the front line, but it is important to have excellent management and administrative support to allow clinical staff to do their jobs efficiently and happily (ask a junior doctor about rostering!). As I understand it ICP provides some level of local democratic oversight and input into the ICS. The name Integrated Care System implies we might be getting exactly what is needed.. better integration across primary care, acute hospitals and social care. I hope so and I hope that this system lasts for a generation.
At last, we got to the motions. The first (at 5 hours 7 mins in the video) was a real dogs dinner from the Ashfield Independents, but through the mist of confusion and hyperbole it called for stopping the new mayoral authority having any powers to raise money through council tax. The Tories proposed a major amendment which at least made sense. We recognise the importance of taxes to provide good and efficient services in our community: in Manchester the mayor has raised a levy to tackle homelessness, which has saved money on other services. But the East Midlands has some of the highest council taxes in the whole of the UK.. much higher than the Greater Manchester area, probably related to the fact that central government spends less on the East Midlands than anywhere else in the country (see figure). I’m not sure if we really need a local mayor, though improving links between the City and County would be good. But if we are getting one then we should not be paying for our own levelling up: the Mayor’s office should be funded by central government.
Finally, I proposed a motion (at 6 hours 28 mins) at the suggestion of a resident. It was on the Future Generations principle and was based on a bill that had been taken to parliament with cross party support but had failed to get heard because of all the shenanigans there. It is a very simple idea: you are more likely to think about the long term consequences of your actions if you actively focus on future generations. This is most obviously relevant for climate change, but could also be applied to almost anything: pandemic planning, energy supply, early years education. In the motion I not only asked the council to act in accordance with the principle, and consider the needs of future generations on all reports, but also to provide a formal opportunity for the County’s Young People’s Board to scrutinize council activities. When the debate started, I briefly hoped that the Tories were going to support this motion since after all it was hard to disagree with, but they managed! They said passing motions making statements was meaningless- maybe I have to agree since their motion declaring a Climate Emergency doesn’t seem to be worth the paper it was written on. They then said that the council officers would not pay proper attention when adding comments on reports, which was rather an insult to the officers who I find to be very conscientious. Finally they argued that is wasn’t for us to tell the Young Person’s Board what to discuss, but as they knew, the motion didn’t suggest that.. it said ‘provide the board with formal opportunities’. The Tories know full well you can’t scrutinize papers without substantial support. As councillors we have training and researchers to help us follow the council’s workings and make sense of what is going on. Young people discussing climate change is not the same as young people asking for instance, where the council gets the paper that it prints its reports on.
And to bring this report full circle, at the end of my summing up I asked why the Council’s Climate Change Team hadn’t been appointed (see the comments on the Place Committee above).. the new comms team were appointed quickly enough and climate change should be more urgent than comms. Cllr Adams told me it had been appointed after all! I am contacting officers to try to find out who the new team are.
But this wasn’t the end of the day. Next there was full council at Rushcliffe. Less said about that the better: a large part of the meeting was gross waste of goodwill, time and public money on a pointless argument that had nothing to do with Rushcliffe Borough Council. It was caused by a motion brought by the Leader of the Council, Simon Robinson, who really should know better.