This week saw the last Full Council meeting before the summer break. It was a bumper agenda with some important policy issues up for discussion. Given the weight of matters for discussion it was once again clear that there was not enough time allocated to cover them all. It is a shame that the Conservative administration consistently refuse to turn up and start meetings an hour or two earlier to ensure we can get through the necessary business for the benefit of residents. Some of them receive Council allowance payments not far off what some full-time local NHS workers earn. They seem happy to take these payments but less happy to turn up and do the hard work.
At the start of the meeting, I made a statement about the recent case involving Councillor Michelle Vince. I emphasised the right of all Council officers to go about their duties free from harassment and the right of Councillors themselves not to be bullied, gaslit or harassed by other members. I also reminded members that in May 2021 the Council unanimously passed a motion on ‘Tackling Intimidation in Public Life.’ I was proud to propose it. I concluded my statement by repeating the call I made at the time for all elected members of this authority to respect it. Without exception.
Next up was a set of six questions from the public. The original agenda only listed four. I was shocked to discover in advance of the meeting that two further submitted questions had been omitted despite being valid and submitted before the deadline. Coincidentally these were both submitted by Labour Party members. Despite attempts to defer them until September once this was uncovered, I was successful in having them tabled as supplementary agenda items.
Two Radlett residents who are well known greenbelt campaigners had tabled important questions about the biodiversity commitments made by SKY Elstree Studios. They included a helpful suggestion about publishing some of the key data.
Rabbi Tanya from Elstree Liberal Synagogue asked a question challenging the Council about the lack of recycling for non-residential premises and businesses in Hertsmere. Portfolio Holder Cllr Seamus Quilty sadly resorted to blaming staff shortages for the failure to provide this service. for the backlog. Rabbi Tanya used her supplementary question to challenge the Council’s progress on meeting its own climate emergency targets. Cllr Quilty declined to answer the question claiming he would do so later. In reality, like the entire Council Executive this is because he is out of ideas. It was embarrassing to watch him stuttering to come up with a decent response.
A Borehamwood resident then asked if the council is trying to reduce car usage with any initiatives other than bike hire schemes. Cllr Quilty said that carbon output is at the forefront of his mind but then was only able to talk about the bike hire schemes – themselves introduced only because of Labour pressure. Dr Green of Potters Bar asked a question about local crime in Bentley Heath in the Royds. In her supplementary question Dr Green proposed the creation of a community safety forum. An excellent idea that has worked well elsewhere in the Borough. Unfortunately, Cllr Bright stopped short of promising to implement this. See how it unfolded here:
Archie Hadfield, an impressive young campaigner from Potters Bar asked about data breaches on long-term staff sickness records. Personnel Committee Chair Cllr Rutledge blamed human error and impossible to prevent. Archie pointed our that 88% of the Council’s data breaches in 2021 involved resident’s details and required remedial action. He noted that previous challenges to this from a Labour Councillor were censored. He concluded by asking “How can we trust the council to protect our data if it can’t protect its own staff?” See the video below:
Public questions are an important part of Council proceedings and a great way to make Councillors more accountable for their work. If you want to ask a question at a future meeting call the Council’s Democratic Services team who will be able to guide you through the process.
The meeting moved on to questions from Councillors. After a question on support for Ukranian refugees I raised concerns about the political neutrality of Council press releases following a recent embarrassing incident in which a press release had to be retracted and corrected due to a significant inaccuracy, claiming a non-existent public consultation had taken place before the decision to close Borehamwood Street Market. The Leader delivered a dry response citing procedures and protocols. I told them these protocols clearly aren’t working and that removing his own political oversight of the Communications Staff would be a good start to dealing with this.
After a strong question from Cllr Evans (Lib Dem) on Green Belt issues I raised the subject of on the status of the timetable to address the problem of the Council’s failed Local Plan. This critical document deals with housing and infrastructure provision over the next generation. Cllr Cohen, the Planning Portfolio Holder failed to dismiss the fear that the Conservatives have adopted an extended timeline to re-hash the deeply unpopular failed proposals shortly after after the 2023 local elections. He also failed to explain why we can’t adopt the non-contentious policies on matters like sustainability and affordable housing straight away to benefit local people. This vacuum, without an up to date legally sound local plan, leaves us at huge risk of speculative applications from developers to build on green belt land and avoid their responsibilities to provide supporting infrastructure.
After questions on the 40 th anniversary of the Falklands War I asked about the relationship between hybrid working arrangements and productivity. Predictably, the Tory chair of personnel went into detail about junior staff arrangements. I pointed out that my concern was about very highly paid senior staff who seemed to be almost permanently absent from the Civic Offices and the productivity issues in the departments they oversee.
Cllr Rosehill uses a question to pursue his person grievances against a Labour Councillor.
Cllr Ozarow asked a well-researched question on the accidental merging of Council funds. Cllr Carter struggled to give a coherent explanation of this error but he was sure it is being “corrected”. He just didn’t say how. Click the link to watch Cllr Ozarow’s video explaining this:
The Leader then set out the annual report of achievements against the 2020 Vision Report (yes, I know we are always into 2022, but that’s the way this Council seems to work…) Astonishingly he cited the failed Local Plan as a major success. Our
Liberal Democrat colleague Cllr Matthews challenged the Leader on Hertsmere languishing at 137 th palce in the league table for recycling. Cllr Butler criticised lack of action on park repairs and other amenities. Cllr Myers delivered well-balanced remarks, praising successes but also picking apart the Council’s clear failings on the cost-of-living crisis, green area preservation, the local plan and recycling. See his speech below:
Finance Portfolio Holder Cllr Sachdev sought to blame all the failures on COVID, despite other local authorities suffering the same pressures.
Council then discussed a report on introducing a new street trader Licensing scheme. Our Group supported cracking down on unlicensed traders through regulation but opposed up-front charges of £400 which would hurt small businesses looking to recover from COVID.
The next item was due to confirm the appointment of a new Managing Director at Council owned Elstree Film Studios. This was withdrawn because the appointment has fallen through despite being signed only days beforehand. Another shocking example of poor management of this important asset.
Strong cross-party support for the next item – a grant for Borehamwood Football Club. Towards much needed upgrades to their site.
I stressed the public benefit financial argument for supporting this. £150k of taxpayers money will leverage a uplift of value equating to around £10m for this Council owned site at Meadow Park. That is before we look at all of the wider benefits BWFC brings to the Borough under the leadership of Danny Hunter and Luke Garrard. Cllr Ozarow also gave a rousing speech in favour, watch it here:
We moved on to support the proposed new Member Code of Conduct. I stressed the improvements regarding the system for registering member interests – given the many conflict that exist on the part of Hertsmere Tories in particular. Tory Planning Committee Chair Cllr Linda Silver then launched a bizarre angry and aggressive rant shouting at opposition Councillors to behave better. The irony was obviously lost on her.
Cllr Bright proposed a decision report of the Independent Remuneration Panel amending the Member Allowances Scheme. This followed recent changes to the Council’s scrutiny arrangements. Cllr Butler supported the adoption of the
independent panel’s recommendations pointing out that we needed to move to adopting the recommendations previously made that scrutiny chair positions should be held by opposition Councillors. The Leader’s response made it clear that the
Tories prefer to carry on ‘marking their own homework’.
Next, I proposed a report updating on progress towards an accommodation with the owners of Aldenham Reservoir in our ongoing cross-party efforts to retain this site for public use. Deputy Council Leader Cllr Clapper and I are negotiating solutions to increase the levels of water, are glad that the angling club renewed their lease and hope the sailing club can return if the levels rise again. I set out other medium term proposals for the site and thanked the all-party task force that was created following the motion on this topic a few months ago. Cllr Ozarow has been a key player in this work. Here is his speech:
Next, Council discussed a motion that Cllr Morris claimed was to Motion proposed by “show solidarity with the Jewish community “. In reality this was an international relations proposal that has little to do with community relations in Hertsmere. Our Group was supportive of the plan to open talks to build links between the Borough and Israel’s creative arts sector. This makes solid sense given the importance of this sector to our local economy. Cllr Cohen seconded the proposal without talking about any of the detailed plans before creeping into a party political attack. In my speech I
supported the plan, pointing out that this was originally suggested by our own group over four years ago at which time Tory support was lukewarm as they thought it would be contentious. I urged Councillors to avoid the dangerous conflation of Israel and antisemitism contained within this motion. I highlighted the recently announced cross-party efforts I’m currently helping lead to twin Elstree & Borehamwood with Shoham in Israel. Here is the article explaining the initiative:
I asked the Council leadership to ensure that this new plan was about delivery and results – not just talk. Here is the clip of me doing that:
Lib Dem Leader Cllr Richards made a good suggestion about exploring a similar partnership with with India. Cllr Morris lowered the tone with another party political attack – once again a shameful politicising of a good initiative. The motion passed unanimously.
Cllr Ozarow proposed a joint Labour-Liberal Democrat motion opposing the cutting of webcasts of key Council meetings. He called instead for increased direct engagement with local people. I’m pleased that after pushing back Labour secured
reinstatement of webcasting scrutiny committees. This motion sought to redress the balance further. He stated that the ban on committees being webcasted caused anger among residents. Cllr Evans called on the council to use the electronic voting system that already exists instead of the current time consuming and less transparent system. This was ignored. We know that the Tories won’t do this as unless they can physically see how their leaders are voting they are liable to vote the wrong way by mistake! The cutting down of webcasts is blamed on staff resource. In reality it started after Labour began to expose wrongdoing and data breaches. The Conservatives used their majority to defeat the motion.
We used the Opposition Business slot to propose the adoption of new measures to engage with and protect the growing number of private renters in Hertsmere. The Tories shamelessly made excuses to oppose these common sense proposals. I pointed out that this was unsurprising given the number of profiteering landlords in their own group of Councillors. Shamefully none of them declared an interest. Cllr Gray delivered a wonderful seconding speech outlining our 4 point plan:
Cllr Bright told us to wait for national implementation for policies from the national Tory manifesto published three years ago. I was firm in my response that we have a public duty to act locally – not to “wait and see”. Have a look at our full motion below to see exactly what the Tories blocked:
After the meeting ended, we were flooded with supportive messages from local residents. The tide is certainly turning in Hertsmere. People are realising that we are seeing the dying fag-end of a rotten Tory administration. As we set out our
policy agenda they are realising that Labour is a credible alternative around here. This meeting was yet another example of that. Tories with no answers, no real understanding of local need, resorting to party politics instead of proper management of the Council. It is Labour who set out and proposed meaningful alternatives – whilst Conservative Councillors blindly followed their whip and rejected them to the detriment of our Borough. It is time for a fresh start.