Dec 13 2012

From the Sidelines at Harrow Council’s Cabinet Meeting – December 13, 2012

Continuing our ‘Democracy in Action’ thread, we went along to Harrow Council’s Cabinet meeting this evening, on a cold winters evening, to see if our experiences of the last time were the normal modus operandi for the council. I think it’s safe to say that we weren’t disappointed in tonight’s show, but we’ll get to the detail shortly.

As always, the Public and Councillor questions are the most lively of the evening, although within those first 30-40 minutes, we could see – and hear – a number of our local councillors (and to be honest, there weren’t that many of them there) yawn.

Public questions started off with a number of items about the Strategic Review of Learning Disability Accommodation, and were directed at Cllr Margaret Davine in her role of Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care, Health and Wellbeing. Much of her response can be summed up along the lines of “Yes, we know everyone’s concerned, but my boys are on the case…” – a timidly reassuring answer, but nothing that wasn’t expected. But at least she answered the question!

Cllr Mitzi Green was up next for a few questions about Vaughan School. In what seems to be becoming a typical strategy, she failed – utterly and completely – to answer the question, and then showed her usual disdain of the public by proffering sarcasm when asked to clarify. We don’t know much about Mitzi Green, except it’s a fairly common name in the US, although bizarrely, it seems well-used by Estate Agents out there – read into that what you will. One of her questions was along the lines of  “…how will the Council…”, so you’d expect it to be fairly easy to answer (note here that ‘answers’ as supplied by Council officers, and merely parroted out by Councillors, so Cllr’s Green inability to handle the supplementary questions isn’t unexpected). But back to the non-answer: you’d expect it to start along the lines of “The Council will…” – but no, why do that when you can skip the question, waste time and insult the resident all in one go? Of particular note was Cllr Green’s unfathomable rudeness in carrying on a conversation with a colleague when being asked a question by a resident.

[pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]…skip the question, waste time and insult the resident all in one go…[/pullquote]

The next question was to Cllr Phi O’Dell, who readers might recall we’ve labelled as Champagne Phil in the past. We’ve just heard, by the way, that he’s dropped out part-way through this meeting to attend ‘an event’ – whether there is more champagne involved, isn’t clear at this point. In a full monotone, he read out his prepared scripted answer which again, didn’t actually answer the question.

It was at this point, that the allocated 15 minutes begrudgingly allowed to Public Questions ran out – those unanswered questions should, in the fullness of time, get a non-answer in writing.

Next up were the Councillor questions, and it was a fairly safe bet that they’d centre around the budget. Readers of the local press will recall that Cllr Sachin Shah, Portfolio Holder for Finance, who has a penchant for using phrases such as “…y’ know…” to fill gaps in his answers, had declared his 2% raise in Council Tax in the budget was simply ‘unfounded rumour’ in the press, got asked why, if it was ‘unfounded’ it was mentioned 12 times in his draft budget. Sure, we all get that he’s got to put something in the box, but he could really have avoided claims of Council Tax hikes simply by shoving a note into his budget somewhere. To be fair, he really hasn’t much of a clue about how much he’ll be getting from the Government, so his budget thus far is really northing more than a lot of guesswork, in our view. Still, he took the opportunity to be rude and offensive, so it wasn’t really a wasted question.

Back to Champagne Phil next – this was before he slipped out early – who assures us that despite seeing a cut of some £750,000 to the Public Realm budget, residents won’t really notice any difference. Potholes will still get fixed, it’ll just take longer. We’re betting that the phrase comes back to haunt him next year, when Harrow’s roads resemble an offroad 4×4 course. Bottoms up, Phil! Trebles all round!

Final pot-shot came from Cllr Paul Osborn, who’d rushed in at the last moment from either doing a spot of heavy DIY or a college rugby match, judging by his attire, with faded (and not trendily, we might add) jeans and a rugby top with some kind of logo emblazoned on the back. Perhaps Cllr Susan Hall, Leader of the Opposition, could have a word and perhaps hand out a few Top Man vouchers along with Christmas Cards to her boys. Anyway, Cllr Osborn attacked the whole plan about moving all the Council’s public-facing services to the internet, and then went on to point out the whole range of IT failures the Council has experience (as we posted them elsewhere on iharrow.com). Great Leader himself responded by saying that his administration took over old, outdated computer systems, which gave Cllr Osborn a chance to point out that at least they worked.  Great Leader went on to say that 28,000 residents have registered for a MyHarrow account, that they have 900 neighbourhood champions, and process over 1700 web-forms for Public Realms services a month (except today, when the whole forms system crashed).

So, all in all, just as expected really, although this time, Great Leader seemed to have kept better control over things from what we saw, but it may just have been that he wasn’t distracted by Hugh Peart – the chap from legal – feeding him tidbits all way through for the first part of the meeting.

We left after the end of the questions, along with most of the other residents who’d turned out for it. Just about the only Portfolio Holder who answered a question properly, in an adult and grown-up manner, was Cllr Davine.

We’d urge residents to go along and see what their Council Tax is paying for – full details of all Council meetings can be found here.


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1 comment

  1. Georgia

    I don’t which one of you is writing this stuff, but you have had me in stitches this morning.

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