Tim's Council Diary: TW3

2 Jun 2023
Tim Prater

The full story of the three way negotiations to form the administration of the council had run through from polling day to 3pm on Wednesday, just 4 hours before full Council. The officers were going bald, and, frankly, so were Jim, Connor and me.

I think the full story will make a chapter in the book of one of our lives. However I will say that I believe that at all times, and on all sides, there was genuine goodwill throughout, and a determination to get the best for the residents of Folkestone and Hythe who had clearly voted for change. We have a very similar common agenda we want to deliver, and will.

In the end, it was people outside the district that forced the shape of the first administration, which is a shame, as I feel we would all be stronger with Connor and others in it. They will however play their roles Chairing all the key committees of the Council and the Council itself, being the "critical friend" in the first year that can see things with fresh eyes, and preparing to play a fuller role when we change the way the Council is run in May 2024.

The AGM was a bit of a blur: Abena and Anita elected Chair and Vice Chair respectively, then Jim leader unopposed, and a chance to name his first cabinet - the first time a non-Conservative had been able to do that in our district in 20 years. I'm honoured to be Deputy Leader: I'll help this administration deliver for our district in every way I can.

Thursday Jim 'n Tim (we really would prefer first name terms for all Council business) got to attend and speak briefly to an all staff hybrid meeting in the Civic centre, and then Jim and I got to have a brief discussion on pushing on our agenda to Save Princes Parade following a discussion and briefing on Wednesday morning.

Friday morning Jim and I met Andy Jarrett, MD of Otterpool LLP, the 100% Council owned vehicle set up to deliver Otterpool Park. We're really clear that we want to see much stronger leadership from, and reporting to, the Council from the LLP than we have seen before. Some things need to change. But done right, Otterpool could deliver a really exciting mix of a new town with the highest environmental standards, superb facilities, energy self-sufficiency, raised bio-diversity, new homes for thousands in our district and a really large contribution towards the 1000+ new Council Homes we want to see bult in the district. The alternative of more and more "bolt on" developments without infrastructure adding to our existing towns and villages don't build sustainable communities. By building a whole town, you can afford to build in the full range of facilities that a place needs, and with a Council leading not a developer, it's led by what the area needs, not shareholder value. What we have with Otterpool Park currently isn't quite right. But with some changes, Otterpool Plus can deliver for us: homes, jobs, schools, better roads, better sewage treatment, a million more trees...

Mainly, I spent the Bank Holiday weekend in a field, but there were a number of calls and emails on Saturday morning as Andy B appraised me of a problem in Guildhall Street, and what was being done to deal with it. The rather beautiful umbrella canopy installation (designed, delivered and funded externally from the District Council) was found to have something if a weakness: it couldn't deal with the wind, which was an issue in Guildhall Street. Not sure how that made it through the  idea phase for an external installation  but with umbrellas falling into the area something needed doing. The area was cordoned off but access to shops maintained, and the contractors who installed it called back to fix it make make it safe. They arrived, tried, the wind blew again, and the installation removed fully on Monday. As I say, beautiful, and educational: include the impact of weather on your risk assessment forms...

Tuesday morning I got to talk to Monitoring Officer Amandeep on the Governance part of my cabinet role, looking at both improved controls and checks currently being put in place to deal with significant weaknesses identified in the last administration. We also discussed how we would deliver a Committee system for the Council by May: a tight timetable but achievable if we can agree that it's the broad principles that matter, and fine tune the details "in play". Work is already ongoing on this and expect an early motion to full council, and then a focused working group, which will meet in public and publish agendas and minutes, formed of a representative of each group and an independent.

We have had concerns raised that you can not start the Committee system process except at an AGM, but that's not so. From https://www.cfgs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Rethinking-Governance.pdf Page 4:

"A change in formal governance arrangements must occur at a specified “change time”, which is at the council’s Annual General Meeting (AGM). Prior to the change time, the council needs to have resolved formally to make a governance change. There is no minimum period of time between the resolution and the change time, but there does need to have been enough time for the council to formally publish the proposal and consult on it. For practical purposes this means that a resolution passed at council AGM itself, or at a special meeting a few days beforehand, is unlikely to be enough."

Excellent. Lets go.

We also discussed a brief but hopefully helpful procedural change: removing the need to stand to speak at full council meetings (it's already not required at Cabinet and Committees and Working Groups). As an alternative to a constitutional amendment, we agreed that we could action it simply through an announcement from the Chair to the effect the standing to speak is optional at future full council meetings. That will suit the microphones on desks, webcasting, and councillors that find standing hard all at the same time: quick win.

Tuesday afternoon was the first regular JCT (Jim, Connor and Tim) coordinating meeting, bringing together what we'd each been working on and refocusing on the next steps.

Wednesday evening was the first Cabinet get together and a briefing / training session: much to learn and listen. To reflect importance of the Labour Group as part of our leadership, if not administration, Connor was invited and attended this "executive" session, and will be invited to all subsequent ones too.

Thursday was some meddling in other people's portfolio's (sorry!). Trying to encourage the Parking team that offering the facility of "paper" visitor permits for those that really struggle with Ringgo / online permits should be an option. There may be a cost there, but digital first is reasonable to me, digital only is not. I also raised a website accessibility issue reading some content on mobile devices, and that's been taken up and a fix promised in the next 10 days.

Coming soon: more finance briefings. There is a big job to be done there dealing with the last administration's built-in £18m Medium Term Expected Deficit - the elephant in the room that no-one ever discussed - and building a secure budget for next year that allows us to deliver the services we want, at a Council Tax we can afford.

Larry Ngan and Lib Dem Campaigners on The Leas, Folkestone

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Larry Ngan, Daniel and Fry with "Build More Houses" t-shirt on The Leas, Folkestone

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