Group Leader’s Report
General Meeting, November 2016
Since the last GM the main item on our agenda has been Full Council at the end of October, and I thought I might focus on this for a change, especially as we have our last one of 2016 in just a few weeks time it seemed an opportunity to seek the Party’s engagement with the Group on this issue.
The agenda and minutes of October’s meeting can be found here:
Can I start by saying that the whole meeting is webcast – and so that you don’t have to come to the Guildhall to sit through the meeting, you can always watch the action on the Council’s website. Can I ask you to do that, it would be good to have some feedback from members as to how we “perform”.
I use the word “perform”, because in actual fact, apart from one or two significant issues that have to be passed by the full council – the Budget is the most significant item – much of what goes on at the meeting is an opportunity for some real politics. As an opposition we have two main areas where we can properly intervene in the level of debate and decision making.
First is obviously we get the opportunity to put one motion before council for debate. There is a great temptation to pick up national political issues, and we did debate the referendum before it took place, but we do try and have a local impact, and also try to focus on actions that officers can take away and act on. At the last full council there were three motions:
This motion sought a fuller explanation of two options around merging aspects of Police and Fire services in York and North Yorkshire. The motion was in fact a statement from York Tories to Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan to say that they are not going to automatically support her proposal, which many are seeing as a power grab. The motion was voted through almost unanimously cross-party.
We do need to understand the proposals coming from both sides before deciding as a council which is in the best interests of York residents.
A motion against Grammar Schools – (both LibDem and Labour put forward almost identical motions, and the Lib Dems just got in before us). This was passed with the Conservatives against; though privately the Conservatives are not all united in favour of new grammars, and most of them said they would not want them in York.
A motion condemning the Austerity measures that have been part of Government budgetary policies for some time now, particularly as they affect Local Government, and calling on the Administration to try to influence a fairer funding deal for York – which has, like others, been badly hit over a number of years now. It’s worth noting that York is one of the lowest funded unitary authorities in the country and has almost the lowest spending per head nationally too. This one was interesting – the LibDems tried to amend it which we and the Tories defeated, then they abstained on the substantive motion, and with the Greens with us, we saw our motion passed.
At our group meeting at the end of November we will need to formulate our proposed motion for Council at the beginning of December; I have no firm ideas at the moment, though in the light of the recent finding of the Courts that the governments plans to improve air quality are fatally flawed, I am wondering if we could pick up something around the administration’s plans for tackling some of the Air Pollution hot spots.
It may be that we focus on Sustainable Transformation Plans (STPs), something which so far has not enjoyed a proper public airing and which could lead to a reduction in local health services. But it did strike me that this is an opportunity for Party Members to put forward some ideas for issues they might like to see debated in the Council meeting.
It does not need to be a full scale motion, but just a subject idea might help us and over time we could build up a bank of suggestions to use for future meetings.
They don’t have to come forward tonight, but anyone who would like to send me a suggestion, and I will promise to put it into the system and give it consideration. Ultimately the motion agreed will be the one a majority of Labour Group Members vote to take forward.
The second way in which we challenge the Administration is by questions to the Council Leader and the Executive Members. We used to have a system of written questions, which were handed in well beforehand and answers were written up and handed out at full council. But the system was changed to create, (we hoped) a more challenging approach which really kept the Executive Members on their toes.
So questions are put verbally on the night, and we have about 10 minutes of questions to the Leader, and then a further 10 minutes to the Executive generally, and a final 10 minutes to the Executive Member who is making a written report to Council – so about half an hour’s worth of questions. So again I have been wondering whether to adopt a Westminster approach – and ask for questions from the wider party.
If you have a burning issue about bins, clean streets, graffiti, open spaces, housing etc. etc. put them in to us and we will pick one to ask at council. But given the administration plant questions from their own Members, we have to be very focussed and ensure the few opportunities we have are politically well directed.
We are in competition with other groups – and the Greens in particular like to make a long speech, and then convert it into a question. But I am trying to be as focused as we can – ask questions that are short and to the point, and then if we are not satisfied, follow it up with a supplementary. But again, if you have a topic, we will look into it and turn it into a question. We can even identify you if you would like us to.
As I said at the beginning – treat yourselves and watch the webcast (there are some advantages to technology), and get an idea as to how it all works. But as a group we should be trying to represent our members’ concerns, so keep us informed.
Finally the Budget is the next big issue on the horizon. Cllr. Neil Barnes is our shadow representative for Finance and Performance business. He has asked me to ask if anyone member would like to join an adhoc group to look at the budget and work with him to understand the issues involved, and the options available to us.
We won’t get the final details of the Administration’s budget until just a few weeks before budget council (early February), but we do try to pull our ideas together much earlier than that to start thinking how we want our amendments to go forward. So if anyone would like to join such a group again just let me know and I will pass your name and details on to Neil. It is one of our big set pieces.
By way of brief update, the York Central access road options come to Executive this month where we should get a better sense of which route in the Coalition will opt for. We have called this in to committee for a greater scrutiny.
The Local Plan moves forward with consideration of consultation responses in December at both the Local Plan Working Group and Executive. This should really highlight whether there is any serious opposition to the Coalition’s more risky plan. One suspects that there will be.
As already referred to, the footprint York falls into for reviews of NHS services (STPs) is called Humber, Coast and Vale, which as it sounds is a large area with little logic in terms of patient flows. But it is anticipated that the Vale of York CCG will sign off the plan involving York in December. Plans have been kept confidential and many councils are refusing to endorse them for this very reason, and due to a lack of consultation with the public. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that York may join this group.
Labour Group Leader