By Chris Cornell / Latest News / 0 Comments

Last Thursday, Canterbury City Council voted to establish a COVID-Emergency Committee of 17 councillors to make all major decisions of the council, potentially up until May 2021. The Labour Group, whilst acknowledging the scale of the emergency that we are in, proposed and voted in favour of amendments which would bring about greater accountability and prevent this decision being understood by many as a return to the ‘Executive’ system of governance which dominated local politics in the area in the early 2000’s. In this piece, Councillor Alan Baldock reflects on the discussion:

 

‘We all inhabit an ever changing new normal, local leadership has never been more important and nor has a willingness to listen and engage with local communities.  It is those communities that need local Councillors to be there helping them to survive today and have hope of a better life to come when this horrible disease is no more.

Thursday last week CCC stopped listening and started hiding, running away from scrutiny and challenge and the very people they represent.

The Conservative administration excluded twenty-one of the Councillors you elected last May from representing you and your family in the debates and decision making until quite possibly next May.  They have been deliberately and knowingly excluded during a period that in history that shaped the beginning of our recovery to a new normal.

Not only has the Tory administration now excluded Councillors it is in a panic driven rush towards, what is to all intense and purposes, a return to the Executive system so hated in Canterbury and Whitstable especially.  An Executive system of Governance, where a small group of Councillors take all the decisions, was replaced after a long and bitter campaign by a Committee system in CCC.  This Committee system now involves almost all Councillors one way or another and offered good opportunities for scrutiny and challenge, openness and public involvement.  All those checks and balances leading to robust and generally wise decision making, it’s not perfect but hugely better than an Executive.

Labour Councillors for Canterbury and Whitstable tried to prevent a Tory and LibDem sleepwalk back to the quasi Executive system.  The Torys excuse was the COVID19 emergency, they even named this new, all powerful Committed the COVID Emergency Committee.  

The Tories empowered the Chief Executive to make significant decisions and choose what to bring to the new CEC Executive style Committee.  They have prevented opposition Parties from presenting Motions or asking formal Questions, they have prevented members of the public from Petitioning and finally refused to agree that all Councillors should be involved in a future decision to extend this emergency arrangement past August.  All these lost checks and balances were ways of holding an elected Council to account, making democracy work for the people that elect their representatives.  This Tory administration has chosen to believe it is above challenge and has a devine right to rule and as such can do as it chooses without scrutiny or public accountability. Opposition for Opposition sake is poor governance, that’s not what Labour do.  At the Council Meeting on Thursday last week we presented a workable and legal solution that offered the stability of the Committee system we have now, encouraging good debate, challenge and public engagement.  To speed up the process during the emergency period we would have empowered the Committees to ratify all their decisions without reference to a full Council meeting.  The existing appointed Councillors, with there Committee knowledge and experience would be there for the emerging recovery online in virtual meetings and of course in the heart of their communities.

Along with the LibDems, Labour Councillors wanted certainty in writing that this was a temporary governance arrangement.  Frighteningly we did not get this, in fact the Tories voted against just such assurance.  How confident would you be after seeing the obedient whipped Tory Councillors vote against every single opposition amendment submitted to protect the democratic process, a process that must always be there to hold a Council of any colour to account.  Never has it been more important than now as it leads its residents into an unknown new normal along a long and challenging path that crosses all our lives and those of our loved ones.  Sadly, that is in doubt in Canterbury for the foreseeable future.’

 

 

By Chris Cornell / Latest News / 0 Comments

As part of its’ response to the Council Budget, Labour Councillors won a concession forcing the Conservative Leader of the Council to write to the government highlighting the precarious nature of local government funding and the impact of austerity on Canterbury City Council and its’ work.

Councillor Rob Thomas wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the 13th February but failed to adequately explain the problem. Below is the text of our letter written by Councillor Jean Butcher highlighting what he should have said:

 

Dear Rob

Thank you for writing to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in line with the Labour motion to Council on 13th February. Unfortunately, while you have complied with the letter of our request you have predictably failed to capture the spirit of it. In so doing, you have utterly failed to adequately address the growing concerns of the people of our District about the decline in Council services which is becoming more apparent every day.

You rightly highlight the pressure on Council finances which results from the withdrawal of the Rate Support Grant for student homes, the impact of residents having to fund services for students and over 7 million visitors, and the negative effects of the outdated valuations and banding constraints on Council Tax.

However, while setting out the scale of the cuts that have resulted from this, you have failed to explain that even more cuts are coming. The purpose of my motion was for you to highlight to Government, with the Council’s full support, that this position is not sustainable, and to do so before we reach a crisis point. However, the tone of your letter seems rather to suggest that while all this shortage of money is jolly inconvenient, we are doing our best and we’d like to show you how very well we are coping.

This is a disservice to the people of Canterbury. Entirely due to the policies of the Conservative Government since 2010, we face a crisis in the Housing Revenue Account which is preventing us bringing homes up to an acceptable standard, as well as preventing us building enough homes to meet the needs of local people.

We face a crisis in homelessness, as Universal Credit impacts on people’s ability to pay rent to private landlords, and to some such landlords refusing to accept benefits recipients as tenants. Homelessness is increasing and we are struggling to deal with it.

We face a crisis in the environment, which we lack the funds to effectively address, resulting among other things in increased flood risk and excessive carbon emissions.

We face a crisis in the condition of the public realm, unable to adequately clean or maintain even the most prominent streets in this World Heritage City.

We face a crisis in transport and pollution, with our partner council, Kent, unable to adequately maintain our roads or invest in much needed traffic improvement schemes.

Residents’ health, including that of many children, is suffering through the resulting pollution. Public transport is prohibitively expensive for many people. We face a crisis in our economy, as Brexit bites and our ability to attract tourists and to promote business is eroded.

In every aspect of this Council’s work, 10 years of sustained cuts to funding streams and limitations on our ability to raise taxes to compensate have taken a terrible toll on our services, our staff and our residents. Complacency of the sort exhibited in your letter does nothing to deal with this.

On behalf of the Labour Party in Canterbury Council, and all our residents, I moved a motion asking you to spell all this out to the Government and to seek an immediate change in policy to allow our services to be properly funded. Instead, you’ve offered the minister a day out in Canterbury to see our “ambitious Council” and our “truly amazing” District, and suggested there are opportunities as well as challenges ahead. All that may be true, but unless you take the serious steps necessary to demonstrate to Government the damage which 10 years of austerity have done to our District – as to so many others – we will never get to a position in which we have the ability to realise our collective ambitions and release the potential of this wonderful District.

Your letter avoids the essential presentation of all these facts, and as such the Labour Group condemns it and your failure to adequately defend the people of the District.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Jean Butcher

 

By Chris Cornell / Environment / 0 Comments

When the City Council declared a Climate Change Emergency 8 months ago, the Labour Party insisted that its new Climate Change Group to should consider as a priority the option of creating a Citizens Assembly to address Climate Change.

This priority has not been addressed thus far. While there has been some discussion on the use of forums and the creation of a survey there has been a reluctance from the Conservatives to commit to a Citizens Assembly, despite the Government and numerous other local authorities having done so.

The Labour Party believe that Climate Change will not be prevented unless we all learn to change our behaviour. How those changes take place cannot be left to Council committees or pressure groups alone. To engage the public fully and reach acceptable solutions, the issue must be addressed by an independently selected and representative cross-section of citizens from the whole Canterbury district. All the evidence is that such Assemblies reach innovative, informed and widely acceptable solutions, which is what we need to address the diverse and specific challenges in Canterbury district.

The Council has recently allocated a further £500000 for climate change. One purpose that some of this money could be used for is to engage the people of Canterbury in discussing Climate Change.

 
Labour Councillors are therefore proposing that there should be a Citizens Assembly convened as soon as possible and have written an open letter to Council Leader Rob Thomas today demanding it. Running concurrently with it should be a Young Persons Assembly to ensure the voice of future generations is heard and acted on.
 
In all this, as well as our support for the Climate Change Action Partnership, for local tree planting initiatives and for the Canterbury Repair Cafe which opens this Saturday, Labour is leading the case for creating genuine behavioural change and for supporting all our communities to achieve reductions in carbon emissions as quickly as possible. 
We urge the City Council to act on these ideas.