Oct 19 2013

Harrow Council Cabinet Meeting Notes – October 17, 2013

harrow_council_logoWe joined some 30-odd members of the public to watch democracy in action the the first Harrow Council cabinet meeting under the new leader, Cllr Susan Hall’s, leadership. Set in the dismal committee rooms one and two at the Civic Centre on Thursday night, most of the seats in the public area were filled, presumably encouraged to come along to hear what was going to happen with the Rayner’s Lane free parking trial.

Having got there half hour or so early, I tossed a coin to see which policitcal group I’d go and see first: the Conservatives were the lucky winners of that, although a call by Security for them to come and get me didn’t produce any results – luckily, I spotted Cllr Barry Macleod-Cullinane edging his car into what seems to have been a reserved parking space next to Cllr Susan Hall’s Fiat 500, so I grabbed him when he came in, and got a brief tour of the new Conservative offices and a cup of coffee (in a polystyrene cup, nach) from them. It was also good to meet Cllrs Chris and Janet Mote (the former wearing Croc footwear) as well as one or two others.

I also bumped into Fergus Sheppard, the Council’s new Communications Czar – we’d exchanged email several times since he joined the council, so it was good to put a name to a face.

One notable absence from proceedings with Michael Lockwood, Chief Executive on the Council. Surprisingly, no apologies were given, although there was no place set for him at the top table. Cllr Susan Hall was flanked by the legal chap and the head beancounter. A followup to Michael’s office the following day reported that he was ‘on leave’, so it’s all a bit odd.

Kick off was prompt at 7.30pm, although a few councillors straggled along after the start of the meeting, and went more or less straight away into Petitions, with a couple of groups asking for controlled parking zones in their streets.

Public Questions had a number of enquiries around Mental Health, primarily around the Bridge Mental Health Day Centre, which were answered by Cllr Barry Macleod-Cullinane. Much of his reply was filibustering, was disappointing, as there were so many questions and so little time, but ignore that, and you hear that he feels personal budgets are important, that there should be a range of services, and that more information should be given to service users.

The next question was also around Mental Health, and the number of service users who had been involved in feedback, which is where Barry’s notes appear to have got lost, as he couldn’t answer the question – it’s important to remember that these questions are known about in advance, so a bit of homework should have got the answer fairly easily, or, if not, a reason as to why would have been useful.

Another question was on Whitchurch Playing Fields, and whether the Council was going to withdraw it’s objection to the Village Green application. We’d been wondering where this would go, given that it’s a politically hot potato, and our guess was that the administration would probably want to avoid having to handle it for the time being, at least, until post-election. As expected, the answer was around letting the enquiry tun it’s course, that there is a process to be followed, and that letting it run to completion would finally provide an answer one way or the other.

That being the end of Public Questions, we moved onto Councillor questions, to see Cllr Will Stoodley leap up from his seat to launch the first three assaults around questions on Whitchurch Playing fields (same answer from Cllr Susan Hall); around Anmer Lodge and Gayton Road Library. At one point, iharrow.com got a mention over a story about loss of data on Andrew Trehern’s hard drive, where Cllr Susan Hall denied any data had been lost, and directed Big Willy to talk to us about the article.

There was another question about housing stocks in the borough, and the administration acknowledges the need for more housing, and that it should look at derelict sites, including old garages, to build new houses.

Time up, but we find Cllr Susan Hall throws a curved ball and allows one more question on, not surprisingly, Neighbourhood Champions, from Cllr Asad Omar. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that this was a set up, a stool pigeon, or a stunt, of course, but it did give Cllr Hall a chance to deliver a passionate speech about the Neighbourhood Champions – a project she’s clearly supporting 100% – and the benefits they deliver for the borough as a whole, which took her seven minutes to get through.

Note to Susan Hall: if you can get your portfolio holders to whittle down the fat on their answers, and just deliver the meat, I think you’d get through a whole lot more in a lot less time.

Cllr Will Stoodley’s question about how much work the Council’s favourite law outfit, Bevan Brittan, had received over the past five years was way down the bottom of the list, so we’ll watch the written responses for an answer to that.

[pullquote align=”left” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]We could have condensed around 15 minutes of droning into two minutes of highlight…[/pullquote]Moving on to the rest of the Agenda, Hall flies through it like a maniac, although having seen the way she throws that little Fiat 500 around the streets of Harrow, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

All is going well until we reach item 12, which is the Youth Justice Plan 2013-12. It’s here that the broomstick is handed over to Cllr Janet Mote to ‘introduce’ the report, something she does with unflinching detail. And it’s here that we must object: every councillor present would have had ample chance to read the report – all 40 pages of it – ahead of the meeting, and we could have condensed around 15 minutes of droning into two minutes of highlight.

I’m sure Cllr Mote is a lovely lady, but I bet she’s one of those who read Powerpoint Presentations word for word off of the big screen to her audience. I even texted Cllr Hall asking her to pull the plug on Mote’s monologue, all to no avail. Seriously tempted to being my youngest son’s Nerf Gun to the next meeting.

Note to Susan Hall: if you can get your portfolio holders to summarise, that would be great. We could have all read this report if we were interested, but to force everyone through the aural equivalent of root canal surgery won’t win you any friends, Christmas cards or bunches of flowers.

At this point, Cllr Thaya Idaikkadar jumps in with a few questions. He’s done his homework, and we can spot a plethora of yellow post-it notes sticking out of his copy of the report. His first question finds it’s mark between the eyes of Cllr Janet Mote, and she’s forced to hand over to an Officer to answer for her. Thaya’s follow-up questions produce a similar response. At this point, leaving Cllr Mote battered and bruised, we see Cllr Henson chime in with a few tough questions.

Unfortunately, at this point, we decided to call it a night, and leave the councillors to it. It had taken almost an hour and a half to reach this point, and whilst we’d recommend every resident make the effort to visit a Cabinet or Council meeting, it really does depend on the items on the agenda as to whether it’s going to be interesting or not each time.

We hope to be covering the next meeting on October 24, 2013, and again, we’ll be tweeting live @iharrowlive.

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