Thursday, February 01, 2007

Merton Full Council Report

The last day of January brought with the latest Merton full Council meeting and probably one of the most acrimonious since I became a Councillor.

This was the first meeting with public questions in the meeting format and over 20 were submitted by the public, it was great to see increased participation from the public and some even stayed for the full meeting(usually at most Council meetings you are lucky to see more the half a dozen in the gallery).

A great deal of councillor questions was taken up with prepared answers to follow up questions from Conservative councillors to wind the clock down and prevent Labour councillors asking probing questions, mysteriously the first six questions were from Conservative councillors, coincidental or a fix? I suspect the latter.

In terms of the main debate, it was Children Services with a motion from Labour Councillor Maxi Martin on Bond Road Family Centre. During the debate placards were held up by members of the public against the closure, however during the debate placards were ripped up by security apparently under the orders of the Chief Executive(no doubt following the instructions of the minority Tory administration). This is despite the Mayor who controls the meeting not ordering their removal, apparently the press have photographed the incident and it it is likely to be in the press next week. Labour councillors thought the action of removing the placards was disgraceful, we are a democracy after all and they were not causing a disturbance. Not exactly good Council PR for Merton Council. The motion was sadly defeated but the fight to save Bond Road Family Centre continues.

Another motion was around affordable housing. At the meeting documents were circulated about the e-mail correspondence from Cllr Diane Neil-Mills about affordable housing in Merton. This made very telling reading about their complete lack of commitment to providing any affordable housing and how it has potentially affected our creditability with registered social landlords. At the meeting, the Conservatives raised legal issues about the documents circulated by the Labour group to all councillors and the Head of Legal gave an ambiguous answer about their release. Most of what we proposed was accepted(though no doubt the Tories did not really believe in the main contents of the motion), on the Conservative amendment the Labour group abstained as we had doubt about some of the information within their amendment.

In terms of Council House stock transfer, the Labour amendment on looking at Community gateway schemes based on the Preston model was accepted by Council. At the moment the Tories are desperate to get a consensus on the matter as they've been advised that without our support it will go down the plughole(and they are desperate to get rid of the stock). After the fiasco of the tenants letter back in October they suddenly seem willing to adopt a more consensual tone, the cynic in me thinks it is all a convenient sham. With the Tories not holding a majority in Council they probably also wanted to avoid an embarrassing defeat on the Labour amendment.

The Community Gateway scheme is an innovative, exciting and potentially new stock option that is still in an embryonic stage, but it may be a way of getting the long term investment that is needed into Merton homes. However it is important in any decision that residents are empowered and have a say rather then some remote unaccountable body, this is something that as a Labour group we will be pushing along with listening to the views of tenants in the Borough. I enclose a link below to Community Gateway.

My Pollards Hill colleagues Cllr Zenia Squire Jamison and Cllr Richard Williams both made their maiden speeches to Council and both made fantastic speeches, certainly better then my first speech to Council in May 2002. It is a very nerve wracking experience making your first speech, when I first got elected I hated making speeches but you gradually get the hang of it after a while and the self-confidence grows. My colleague Zenia made her speech in relation to Pollards Hill issues especially the on-going lighting issue that has still not been resolved on Donnelly Green but also Eastfields Station. Richard made a speech on the constitutionality of decision making. For the first time since the election, I did not make a speech to Council, it is is good to let other others have a chance and with a group of 27 it is important that we all contribute.

At the meeting we paid our respects to two retiring Directors, Richard Rawes who had been Director of Environmental Services for the past twelve years and Mike Parsons who has been with Merton Council for the past 33 years, the last 8 as Director of Corporate Service/Finance. Both will be sorely missed and have been of considerable assistance during my time as a councillor.

Finally congratulations goes to Cllr John Dehaney my Labour colleague in Graveney who was elected as mayor-elect at the Council meeting. John will make a fantastic mayor along with his wife Audrey who will make a wonderful mayoress.


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