Sunday, 6 June 2010

NCC Annual Meeting

I just found the minutes to the council's annual meeting. That's not to to say that I'm claiming they were previously well hidden, simply that I hadn't really bothered to look.

Anyway I was interested to see the minute of the exchange between Tory Councillor Georgina Culley and Cap'n Collins over his alleged 'personal mentoring'. For more details on the background to this see here. Let's quote it in full -

"Councillor Culley asked the following question of the Leader of the Council:

Could the Leader of the Council explain the nature of the personal mentoring that he has received since 2005/06, and what value the public has received from the £111,000 spent to date?

Councillor Collins replied as follows:

Thank you Lord Mayor. As I have previously made clear in a question to Council on this matter, I have not received any personal mentoring. I cannot therefore comment on the nature or value of something I have not had."

Remember, these are the official minutes of the meeting and are therefore supposed to accurately report formal replies in full even if (and they often do) go on a bit.

Two issues strike me here. One, if that is all he said, it is a woefully inadequate answer to a question about over £111k public expenditure which nobody seems to be able to trace. Secondly, and possibly partially in Collins' defence, Charles Walker at the 'Post' seemed to hear him say quite a bit more. Shouldn't all that have gone into the minutes? (Update - see comments for an explanation of what actually happened)

I do note Collins reference to a previous reply to a question to Council and maybe the extra detail was given there and Walker or his sub-eds conflated the two for simplicity. I haven't been able to find any trace of this earlier question on the issue and I'll keep looking but if anybody else can enlighten me please do.

By the way, I received a message from the District Auditor telling me that she had been in Nottingham last Friday but hadn't been able to conclude her enquiries at that time. It does look like there is quite a bit to look into.

As to why this is an important issue, well there is of course the value for money question, what did we get for the cash? This appears to be the only aspect that the Tories were looking into (happy to correct this if one of them wants to get in contact). However, to me, a bigger issue is the lack of accountability behind the spending of this money on our behalf.

The fact is that Collins could have quite legitimately made a portfolio holder decision to employ a consultant to do whatever it was that Tinworth was doing (presuming it was within his remit, if not I'm sure he could have got the relevant portfolio holder to do it for him). This decision would have been published and we would have some idea of what was going on. He could also have quite legitimately formally decided not to go to an open tender because NCC's finance rules allow it to do that if the circumstances justify it. That would also be recorded on the portfolio decision. Essentially, two pieces of paper and a couple of signatures would have made it all above board.

The thing is, when the Leader of the Council doesn't follow those simple accountability measures, and over a hundred grand gets spent on somebody who Collins does appear to have history with (Tinworth was involved in trying to rescue the One City Partnership, the predecessor to 'One Nottingham' which Collins has been running as his personal fiefdom until very recently*) then we have the right to wonder if there is a bit of a stinky fish involved.

Anyway, moving on. I was interested to see that both opposition parties tabled some fairly detailed amendments to the budget. With the current political make-up of NCC their amendments had no chance of being passed so you might wonder why they bother. I for one am glad that they did. If nothing else it gives us some insight into their parties' thinking on the issues (e.g. both seem to want to see expenditure on the Arrow reduced and the Lib Dems also suggested ending the ridiculous 'Proud' campaign, the use of Executive Assistants and to scrap the Viccy Centre 'rebuild') and at least keeps alive the impression of democracy happening. Must be a thankless task drafting those amendments for what may be essentially a symbolic gesture but again, I'm glad that they do.

Lastly, there were a large number of questions from the public about the Radford Unity Complex debacle, to which Collins provided the response. He mentions the 'unprecedented' Call-in Sub-commmittee meeting held just four days before but this time doesn't repeat his (subsequently revealed to be false) claim that selling it would raise £320k. In fact, a buyer had been offered it last Autumn for less than half that. It's difficult to see how Collins couldn't have known about that and why he failed to include it in his response. The Audit Commission were keen to look into until the sale fell through which I reckon Collins can count as a lucky escape.

All in all, it's worth reading and comparing the not entirely identical stories he gave to the sub-committee and full council, especially in light of how it all fell apart when the dodgier bits of the deal found their way into the public domain.

*Of course, it's likely that he will continue running One Nottingham as his personal fiefdom via a proxy.


Niles said...

On the issue of questions: the tabled question and its answer are minuted verbatim.

After that, what happens in practice deviates from the written standing orders. There are up to 3 supplementary questions on the same topic answered by the same person. They are not minuted. They are selected by a show of hands. Some lord mayors have let the initial questioner have the first supplementary question as a sort of right, other lord mayors have been more partisan. Sometimes it appears the supplementaries are all planned in advance and the Labour Lord Mayor "overlooks" the hands that are waved from the minority question and only calls on Labour questioners. Part of the game is always drafting your question so that the minutes reflect your aim.

I seem to recall that Cllr Collins later elaborated that services had been provided on a policy development front that benefitted the whole council and the good folk of the city, and not just him personally.

Andy said...

So presumably Collins' further details that you mention in your last para and were reported in the 'Post' article were given in response to supplementary questions?

That explains why they weren't in the minutes, thanks for that info.

Unknown said...

Keep up the good work! This city needs people like you.