Wednesday, 20 October 2010

I Chatted to Some Councillors!

I really did! Not had so much fun in years. Here's my transcript. If any readers joined in with the 'Chat to a Councillor' thing and you'd like me to publish your transcript, email it to

Anyway, here we go. Re Cllr Dewinton, watch her start losing it 11.39 onwards -

10:30 2010/10/20 Me: Chat Transcript: What are councillors views on the length of time it takes for the Standards Committee to investigate councillors for alleged breach of the code of conduct?

Is it acceptable that e.g Cllr Grocock has been under investigation for over 20 months, has been appointed as Lord Mayor in the meantime and yet the Standards committee has not met since June?
10:31 2010/10/20 Librarian: Librarian 'Hilary' has joined the session.
10:31 2010/10/20 Librarian: Hello and welcome to our special Local Democracy Week councillor chat session. We have the following Nottingham City councillors here today: Georgina Culley (Wollaton), Emma Dewinton (Mapperley), Alex Foster (Leen Valley) & John Hartshorne (Bulwell). Is your question for a particular councillor/area?
10:32 2010/10/20 Me: I'd like to hear all cllrs' views on this one please
10:32 2010/10/20 Librarian: Ok I will pass you to Councillor Foster first, then we can try the others.
10:33 2010/10/20 Cllr Foster: Good morning Andy, and good to hear from you.
10:33 2010/10/20 Cllr Foster: I think it's disgraceful that the standards committee takes so long
10:34 2010/10/20 Cllr Foster: It was bad enough when Standards Board for England meant that there were years of delay
10:34 2010/10/20 Cllr Foster: but now the local committee is looking at it there is no way it should take so long.
10:35 2010/10/20 Cllr Foster: Of course, the slight disadvantage of the local committee is that by and large people who know each other quite well are determining each others' cases
10:35 2010/10/20 Cllr Foster: but I still think that's preferable than a multi-million pound body at the other end of the country trying to investigate remotely
10:35 2010/10/20 Librarian: OK, now I'm going to transfer you to Cllr Culley
10:35 2010/10/20 Me: Are you concerned that there may be bias in the local committee?
10:37 2010/10/20 Cllr Culley: Hi Andy, can I take a few moments to read your question and Alex's response.
10:39 2010/10/20 Cllr Culley: Hi Andy,
10:39 2010/10/20 Me: Morning
10:40 2010/10/20 Cllr Culley: I think that it is disgraceful that this whole matter has been going on for over four years.
10:42 2010/10/20 Me: One thing I might add is that it is not in the councillor's interest to have ann investigation hanging over them for so long
10:43 2010/10/20 Cllr Culley: I totally agree and I think in view of the fact that this came to light through a audit commission investigation and would expect us to have ensured that matter was dealt with very quickly to give a good impression to the residents of the City.
10:45 2010/10/20 Me: Thank you both, perhaps a view from the Labour councilors?
10:46 2010/10/20 Cllr Culley: Hi, both of the labour councillors are answering questions at the moment. I will transfer you as soon as I can.
10:48 2010/10/20 Me: In that case don't let me stop you if you have anything to add ;)
10:48 2010/10/20 Cllr Culley: In the meantime to respond to the initial part of your question. I think in the interests of being seen to be in tune with public opinion it would have been appropriate if Cllr Grocock had not been nominated for election as Lord Mayor.
10:52 2010/10/20 Cllr Culley: I am now passing you over to Cllr Dewinton
10:52 2010/10/20 Me: Thanks
10:58 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: Hello and thank you for your question. I am Councillor Emma Dewinton. As Chair of Scrutiny at the Council, the Standards Committee is not part of my remit. However, I am aware of a previous case concerning a Conservative Councillor which took 2 years and did not come to a conclusion. It does not seem a speedy process overall. I will raise your concern at the Audit Committee on which I sit. As far as I am aware, the current Government is considering amending the processes regarding Councillor conduct. I do not think it would be appropriate to comment on a case that is in process. Hope this is helpfl. Best wishes.
11:01 2010/10/20 Me: I don't think it would be seen as pre-empting the conclusion of the investigation if you were to give your views on the appropriateness of Cllr Grocock's appointment as Lord Mayor under the circumstances
11:02 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: Sorry Andy, I beg to differ. But very happy to talk about other issues.
11:04 2010/10/20 Me: Does Cllr Hartshorne have a view or shall I ask my next question?
11:05 2010/10/20 (GMT+0) Cllr Dewinton: Unfortunately Councillor Hartshorne is busy at the moment.
11:08 2010/10/20 Me: Ok, I'll ask my next question. Again for all cllrs - What are councillors views on the facility to withhold publication of certain information in the public interest eg discussions in council meetings?

At the recent call-in sub-committee meeting the information considered in private session included the revelation that Harold Tinworth's bid included an offer to provide political advice to the Executive. This information has so far only been released in the press.

Where does 'not in the public interest' stop and 'politically embarassing' start? Why did opposition councillors in particular agree to keeping this info secret?
11:18 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: Thank you for your question. Council Committees including the call in Committee ask the advice of officers from the Legal Department regarding which matters are taken in confidential session. In this case, we were advised to go into confidential session to consider detailed factual information in respect of the operation of the restricted tendering process i.e. where confidential tender documents from private firms are to be considered. The call in process was conducted in public and widely reported. I understand you were unfortunately only present at the first morning's business, rather than being able to hear the whole process and the recommendations.
11:20 2010/10/20 Me: I have read the minutes. They give no clue as to the inclusion of political advice in Tinworth's tender.
11:21 2010/10/20 Me: In addition Cllr Ahmed agreed the tender with that provision included which would seem to be engaging the council in an illegal contract.
11:22 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: You should have been there Andy. Council minutes are brief and to the point, compard to your blog I do appreciate. However, if you look at the recomendations they do include a unanimous agreement that the Executive Development Programme should be implemented, on the basis it had managerial perameters and was explicitly non-political in nature.
11:26 2010/10/20 Me: The recommendation for non political content stood in isolation in the minutes. In the summary of the closed session it made no mention of Tinworth's offer of political advice. Are you saying I have to attend council meetings to find these things out? Or rely on leaks to the Post?
11:28 2010/10/20 Patron: Btw in the Post's first article on the meeting they made no mention of this issue and I know they had a reporter at the meeting. This implies that the matter was not reported on verbally at the meeting
11:28 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: The recommendation did not stand in isolation. See the minutes on
11:29 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: If you want to hear the full discussion at any meeting of the council, it is best to be there.
11:33 2010/10/20 Me: I just checked the minutes. As I thought, absolutely no mention that Tinworth's tender included political advice. Are you stating categorically that this was specifically reported at the meeting?
11:39 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: To repeat, you should have been there Andy. Minutes do not record every word - but key evidence and recommendations. Why don't you talk to the Post if you want to know what they heard?
11:41 2010/10/20 Me: I have done. It's clear we'll get no further on this. I hope some of you can answer my last question? What are councillors' views on the administration of Discretionary Housing Payments? Members were informed of the appallingly low take up rate in Sep 2006 but little has been done, leading to year on year reductions in NCC's allocation from central government. 2009/10 was the first year that all of the allocation was spent and NCC still has no local guidance of who to and when to make payments.

Given that the new government is placing a much greater emphasis on DHPs via an increase in their budget alongside cuts to mainstream Housing Benefit, what will NCC be doing to ensure that claimants will be aware of the facility and that it will be paid fairly?
11:48 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: Approximately 18 months ago, I raised this issue and recieved detail of the actions being taken to remedy this situation. It is not correct to say that little has been done. I will forward you information regarding this. Obviously I do not have it to hand as I am taking part in this email chat on a computer at Nottingham Central Library. I will also get you a briefing as to City Council further actions to publicise DHPs.
11:51 2010/10/20 Me: I understand that there have been 2 informal meetings which were not minuted. There was little advice sector input to these. Why wasn't anything done before? NCC has lost lots of money because of this.
11:54 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: I will check this information out. Not being aware of informal meetings, that is all I can say. You seem to be under an illusion regarding the City Council. In fact, we are currently trying to save jobs and services, whilst making huge savings, in the face of government cuts.
11:54 2010/10/20 Me: Before we finish I would like some opposition councillors' views on my question concerning information being withheld due to the public interest? In particular from Cllr Culley who I believe was at the call-in sub-committee?
11:55 2010/10/20 Me: With respect Cllr Dewinton, I don't think it's me who's under an illusion.
11:58 2010/10/20 Cllr Dewinton: Andy, I regret you can't cope with someone who argues with you. I would have passed you over to Councillor Culley. Unfortunately she is busy with another call. You can always email her at her Council email.
12:01 2010/10/20 Librarian: I hope that information was helpful to you. Thank you for participating in Local Democracy Week by asking a question today. I hope you will use the Enquire service again.
12:01 2010/10/20 Librarian: Librarian ended chat session.

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