Nov 23 2012

What Happens at a Harrow Council Cabinet Meeting?

We’ve often wondered what happens at Harrow Council’s Cabinet Meetings (dates can be found here), so we went along to the meeting of November 22, 2012, to find out and to see democracy in action.

The meeting was held in Committee Rooms 1 and 2, with a seating layout consisting of about 20 Councillors, officers and admin staff, which faced probably 60-80 public seats, aligned in a Ryanair type arrangement, with mere inches between rows.

The most interesting aspect, by far, was the public questions – an allocated 15 minutes where residents, can submit questions in advance, and get responses from their councillors. This isn’t as great as it seems, as the four days’ notice that residents need to give allows officers to provide a stock answer for the councillor to simply read out. The magic, of course, comes with the supplementary question, which invariably catches the councillor out, leaving them to resort to a written answer.

Last night’s meeting had several examples of this. Cllr Mitzi Green (Children, Schools and Families Portfolio Holder) was just one councillor who read out a prepared ‘answer’ which failed to, uh, answer the question, and then quite clearly had her nose put out of joint when asked – twice – to explain what she’d just read out. Luckily, one of her officers was on hand to whisper things to her, or we’d probably have been there all night. To be fair, she’s quite new to the job, having been plugged in to replace Brian Gate whilst he has those child porn allegations to attend to.

Cllr Hussain Aktar – who recently jumped ship from the Conservative group to be an Independent – and Cllr Sachin Shah (Finance Portfolio Holder) enjoyed a few pre-scripted one-liners, something about Cllr Aktar’s ‘new found freedom’

Many – many – of those present had questions about the Whitchurch Fields development, particularly around the abject lack of consultation with residents. There were suggestions that the ‘fun day’ which was held earlier this year – sponsored, we understand, by the consortium behind the proposals – actually had people shipped in to make it look busy.

As the meeting deteriorated into a barrage of heckling and jeering (prime concerns: councillors not answering questions, and a couple of allegations of porkie-pies), the Leader decided to jump sideways and juggle the agenda to try and calm things down, by addressing the agenda item on Whitchurch Fields. Add into this that a residents’ group have made an application under the Town Commons Act 2006 (possibly, but with all the noise in the room, it wasn’t that easy to make it out) which could quite easily derail the project. One important part of the legislation is that until that application is resolved (which can take up to two years), nothing further happens. It’s all a bit of a mess, and the meeting didn’t go any way in clearing things up.

At one point, Cllr Barry Macleod-Cullianane (Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group) who bears more than a little resemblance to a wiry-haired little terrier, the sort that nips at the vicar’s ankles when he comes to tea, even got up to the microphone to object on residents’ behalf at the way their questions were being side-stepped and ignored. A brave, but foolish effort, and his group were to be punished for it later.

Once the public questions, jeering and heckling were over – all of which resulted in a number of threats by the Leader to have people ‘thrown out’ of the meeting: a threat directed, primarily, at a lady on crutches (excellent PR stuff for the Council there…), it moved onto Councillor questions. Realising that he was onto a losing streak, the leader cut short the question period to ten minutes, presumably as a punishment for the earlier nipping at the leader’s ankles, down from the usual fifteen.

In a flurry of shoulder pads, Cllr Susan Hall (Leader of the Conservative Group), managed to get a couple of direct hits in before being filibustered by a long and rambling non-answer from the leade. Nothing of interest came out of this, except a discovery that the leader had availed himself of a buffet lunch in the Council chamber, which he’d found more attractive than the meeting beforehand. No news on the budget either, and an opportunity to derail a rumour on that was neatly sidestepped.

Cllr Phil O’Dell (Environment and Community Safety Portfolio Holder), obviously without a champagne reception to attend to, managed to get in a few snipes at Cllr Barry Macleod-Cullianane.

So, who was the man of the match? That would be Cllr David Perry (Community and Cultural Services Portfolio Holder) who was clearly on the ball, with the type of steely gaze that would make a Russian Mafia member quake in his boots, and even managed to keep on talking whilst the heckling continued.

So, all in all, an entertaining evening. It was surprising how fast the Cabinet members disappeared after the event, missing the chance to mix and mingle with those few residents who’d held out for the end of the show.

Next meeting worth going to is on December 13th – same time, same place. But we would appeal to the Council to make a little more legroom for those in the public gallery.


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1 comment

  1. Graeme Neale

    I was at this meeting and whilst this article is very amusing and entertaining it is in fact an excellent and very accuarte account of the evenings events.

    This deserves a wider audience please send it the to the local papers and get them to publish it on their letters page – the people of Harrow need to read this.

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