Friday, 22 November 2013


Cllr Michelle Fenner

Cabinet Member for Business, Corporate and Regulatory services.

Response to report:

"This report mentions the misconduct of some Cllrs.
This report with all of its sweeping statements starts by stating that because of the Localism Act, brought in by Central Government, the Standards Committee cannot take any sanctions against the misconduct.    But it finishes with the request to take action!!! That puzzles me.

But we do rely on the Code of Conduct and a comprehensive training session for elected members was delivered on 22nd May 2013.

Meanwhile, TDC gets on with delivering its services and projects.

As an illustration, at the last Cabinet meeting, we were given a Corporate Performance report for the last quarter on our key priorities:
from 30 projects, 5 were completed, 23 in progress.
For example the programme of renovation around the port and harbour with the Yatch Valley project, the housing allocation policy, affordable housing built and empty properties brought back into use and Margate housing intervention, the Port of Entry designation at Manston airport, food hygiene inspections, the Public Realm project dealing with fly-tipping, the new swimming pool in Ramsgate.
All this in spite of severe cuts in our funding from Central Government.
And we continue to deliver a balanced budget and to minimise the Council Tax increases.
TDC functions and delivers its services. It uses the mechanisms and processes stated in its constitution and acts upon the recommendations from the Constitutional Review Working Party.

The  fact is that  some Cllrs do not comply with them, but let me also add that some members of the public do not either.
The only way forward is to defend the democratic process.
Let’s talk about the democratic process and let’s talk about a typical Cllr’s work:

-meetings potentially several evenings per week

-Case work from residents, particularly now with the introduction of changes in benefits

-Keeping residents informed of their work on their behalf

-Reading Council papers.

This represent many hours per week/ per month/per year.
The allowance they receive goes a certain way towards compensating them for their time,  although TDC’s is one of the lowest in the region and nationally.

But you also need to consider the energy needed, physically and mentally to do this work.

And last but not least the emotional energy needed to cope with the stress caused.

In order to have good democracy and good Governance
-       we need to have as wide a representation across society in terms of social background, age, life experience.
-       We need to be able to attract individuals who want to serve their community and be part of decisions across a range of issues, not just on a particular one. Cllrs are not purely lobbyists on one issue. They have to encompass all aspects of the life of the residents they represent in their ward AND across the District, and make balanced decisions.
-       We also need to support all Cllrs to do their work: Situations and issues are rarely black and white and Cllrs need to be allowed to do their work within democratic safeguards
-       We need to uphold the rules set out in the exercising of democracy.

-       We need to balance criticisms against achievements
This report fails on all these counts:

-it paints all Cllrs with the same tar brush and,  in doing so,  it fails its own Equalities criterion

-It makes Cllrs responsible for the consequences of decisions made by Central Government

-it does not recognise the existing processes and mechanisms for change in TDC’s constitution

-it does not consider the work in progress by this administration to address the legacy issues through the publication of the Cabinet report on Probity and Reputation and the fact that,  at times,  we have not been afraid of calling upon the Police to assist us.

The Probity and Reputation report published in April 2013 contains a review of key policies and procedures relating to asset disposal, contract standing orders, whistleblowing policy and the registration and declaration of interests by elected members. It also agreed that there should be presumption in favour of inclusion of the press and public for any part of a meeting. The Cabinet also asked the Constitutional Review Working Party to re-consider the issue of filming. Its recommendations were put to Full Council and agreed.

Our meetings are open to the public, they are filmed and films made available on TDC’s website.
If accredited media organisations want to film, they can request permission from the Chair. These organisations need to show their professional credentials so that ethical standards of reporting are complied with. ...This is much more than what happens at the House of Commons....

The way the democratic process is exercised can be reviewed and altered BUT within the democratic safeguards.

-This report slaps a massive line across the hard work by all Cllrs and the achievements of the Council.

-This report is subjective and lacks scientific rigour. It is not based on facts but on perceptions

Although our hands are tied by Central Government in terms of what sanctions can be applied, and I did meet with the Legal department to discuss this very issue on 7th July 2013, we have to defend the democratic process and we rely on all Cllrs to adhere to the Code of Conduct.
We also appeal to the public to be respectful of the same rules.

In this context, blaming all Cllrs for the misconduct of a handful is PLAIN WRONG and it attacks the very essence of why we are here, including you as a Standards Committee.
Let’s not forget that this Council decided to keep a Standards Committee and chose a model that included independent members.

The misconduct of a handful of Cllrs, not only must be exposed as attacks on the democratic process but this report almost legitimises them by suggesting the intentions are ‘noble’. At least the wording could have been ‘misguided’, but not ‘noble’, particularly when the same disruptive actions are perpetrated time and time again.

The real true culprit in all of this, is the austerity policy from Central Government which creates a situation where each category of residents is having to fight against another to get a share of the ever diminishing funding.

In times of austerity measures, discrimination and prejudice thrive.

It allows the rule of the mob and the mentality that who shouts the loudest wins!

We must stand firm and steer clear of the frenzy of irate emotions that can trample on our democratic safeguards, so that the right decisions are made and not knee-jerk reactions.

Beware of political motives which can derail democracy for small momentary gain but in the end we ALL suffer the consequences of attacks on democracy.

I appeal to this committee to note this report for what it is, an opinion, and to reiterate its support for our TDC constitution and for the work done by the Constitutional Review Working Party in reviewing our processes".

The report was overwhelmingly rejected by the standards committee due to lack of evidence and shortly afterwards the four Independent Members resigned.

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