Last night the committee with a very long name about which I have blogged previously met again, this time to consider a Call-In Request. It met to decide whether or not to call-in the decision made by Deputy Leader Councillor Matthew Lee (CONSERVATIVE) to make Viridor the preferred bidder to run the council’s planned incinerator (Lot 1).
The members of this committee are:
- Councillor Marion Todd (Chairman)
- Councillor Graham Casey (Vice Chairman)
- Councillor Mohammed Nadeem
- Councillor Yasmeen Maqbool
- Councillor Stuart Martin
- Councillor Nick Thulbourn
- Councillor Judy Fox
- Councillor Dale McKean (Reserve)
- Councillor Lisa Forbes (Reserve)
- Councillor Chris Ash (Reserve) (source: Peterborough City Council)
Cllr Maqbool had given advance notice of her absence and Cllr Dale McKean attended in her place.
At the end of about four hours of lengthy, soporific, off topic but occasionally revelatory proceedings the committee decided 4 to 3 to reject the request for a call-in.
Voted AGAINST calling in the decision (and therefore supporting Cllr Lee’s decision)
Councillor Marion Todd (Chairman) CONSERVATIVE
Councillor Graham Casey (Vice Chairman) CONSERVATIVE
Councillor Mohammed Nadeem CONSERVATIVE
Councillor Dale McKean (Reserve) CONSERVATIVE
Voted FOR calling in the decision (and supporting reference back to Full Council or decision maker, but unable to vote for either option since the other vote took place first)
Councillor Stuart Martin LABOUR
Councillor Nick Thulbourn LABOUR
Councillor Judy Fox INDEPENDENT
The meeting began at 6pm with Apologies and Declaration of Interests. No declarations of interest were made.
The Committee voted once again without any discussion whatsoever and without reference to any submission to it to maintain the exemption of key documents.
I could not identify who voted which way nor, without a discussion, why.
At nine o’clock the Chair was persuaded to move to a comfort break followed by a short public session for sharing the “milestones”, (possible timescale for implementation of the decision) followed by the exempt session.
This time excluded members of public and press were invited to use the Forli Room and make themselves a drink. We were also invited back for the non exempt conclusion of the meeting, so there was an opportunity to observe the vote and further non exempt discussion.
When the committee announced its readiness to go into exempt session some members of the public decided to stay seated. This would be a protest at the absence of any public interest debate.
The Chair invited the beadles to try to throw us out and a beadle was fetched and duly and politely invited us to leave. (This has happened before to a couple of us at a Planning Meeting, but on that occasion a beadle couldn’t be found.)
We responded by asking the Chair to follow standing orders and invite a debate on whether or not the public interest might actually lie in sharing the information which is currently hidden and described as exempt. She cheerfully agreed to this request and invited just such a debate.
No member of the scrutiny committee spoke in favour of disclosure or why it might be in the public interest to disclose exempt information (please correct me if I missed something). In fact I can’t remember anything any of the committee members said. I do remember three legal arguments being presented by the council’s lawyer. No committee member countered these or put up alternative or competing views.
Councillor Lee‘s contribution to these proceedings was to protest his willingness to go out of his way to share more than he was legally obliged to in advance of the moment when he was legally obliged to share it, but he would seriously consider never doing this again if this was the kind of reception his helpfulness got.
Cllr Nick Sandford (LIBERAL DEMOCRAT) who was present and sitting alongside members of the committee by virtue of his position as a political group leader did speak out at this point (and at many other moments) in favour of publication, openness and (a new point) fairness (by then quite a few nuggets of exempt information had been dropped into the public domain by the pro-incinerator team which appeared to be free from the obligation placed on councillors to maintain secrecy).
The Chair seemed to me slightly less hasty to stop people talking than she has been at previous meetings. Slightly less grim. And all Tories present seemed entirely confident of the outcome of the meeting. She didn’t rush to silence so many contributions this time. With the notable exception of Councillor Nazim Khan (LABOUR), who sat alongside the committee (by virtue of his position as a political group leader). He was prevented from speaking twice, I think. I am not sure why, except that on one occasion I surmised that it might have been to allow the committee members to speak first. But that is another blog.