Thursday, 21 November 2013

TDC Standards Committee - 21st November 2013

TDC and Labour Group Leader - Cllr Clive Hart 

Speaking at TDC Standards Committee - 21st November 2013.

"Firstly a few points in the report that I absolutely agree with.
The report says that the conviction of a former councillor has had an adverse effect on the perception of the council. That has to be the understatement of the year! It will simply take years to change perceptions after such an episode.
Also, there is no doubt in my mind that the Government has done us no favours by removing the formal sanctions that were available for the breach of the council’s code of conduct.
However, TDC certainly did opt to retain a Standards committee.
Unfortunately I find it hard to understand how the Independent Members with their experience outlined in the report could not have predicted the negative press that this report would generate for Thanet and that they would not have been able to predict the devastating negative effect on council members and officers it would have.
I also note that Independent Members say they utilize their experience in the service of the council. Unfortunately, the ambiguous, broad stroke manner of this report has tarnished every member of this council – good or bad – and has consequently done no service whatsoever to this council.
Nowhere in this report is there any reference whatsoever to the vast majority of hard working councillors who literally give thousands of hours service to local residents year after year.
(My wife – also a frontline councillor -read this report at 9pm on Tuesday evening after spending two hours dealing with a residents housing problem. You simply cannot imagine how appalled she was by the way it describes councillors).
Neither is there any reference whatsoever to the thousands of hours councillors spend on committees here at TDC working harmoniously together, cross party, for the benefit of our district.
The report says there have been no changes in behavior but I think there most certainly has been. The two main parties agree on large areas of council business and agree to differ on some individual matters. That’s politics and always will be. Where I believe there has been a recent change is in general attitudes towards standards matters. I’m pretty certain that virtually every councillor will agree that there is now just one particular councillor whose anarchistic tendencies and total disrespect for Chairmen, the constitution and procedures is trying to bring the council and every one of us into disrepute. This manifested itself - yet again - at a scrutiny working party only this week, where the Chairman had to postpone a meeting due to total disrespect. The culprit appeared to actually want the Chairman to call the Police to evict him from the meeting. Three of us group leaders present at the meeting expressed our profound disappointment. We jointly felt the individual was yet again holding the democratic process to ransom and wasting enormous amounts of taxpayers’ money.
Another understatement in the report has to be the words ‘there have been suggestions that some councillors have stated in public that they intend not to comply with the democratically agreed decisions of the council’. Suggestions! The same individual has stated that as fact in a full council meeting and on the Internet.
Through words such as unscientific, suggestions, suspicion and appearance, the report is ambiguous and riddled with halve truths and innuendo.
With regards to the report saying that - there are ‘personal attacks taking place between members’. For my part I know that every time I give my leaders report to full council, in his response, the leader of the opposition will make personal remarks about me. I think that’s quite pathetic but it’s his style and although I used to feel aggrieved by his statements, experience has taught me to now laugh it off. We’re in politics and unfortunately some people can get a little nasty.
However, in relation to the wording - councillors are ‘distrustful of the public’. What absolute nonsense! We are elected by the public and represent them to the very best of our ability.
As for the situation ‘adversely affecting the delivery of services’. I have to say I’m proud to be the leader of a council that is as busy and efficient as any in the county. Despite having the deepest and most cruel government grant cuts and our broad social and economic problems, we are still one of the most progressive councils in Kent with a whole host of award wining initiatives and projects.
The report speaks of ‘action taken within political groups’ and that ‘this option carries a risk of lack of consistency across the council. That may be so with other groups but I can say that just is not true of the Labour Group:
During my term as Group leader I have had one Labour member who clearly stepped across the line of what was reasonable. Not through words in the council chamber or in any committee but by making an inappropriate comment on social media. Despite being one of our longest standing members and the high regard that held him in within our party, he was suspended from our group for a month.
More importantly, before his return to our group he came into my office, shook hands with member of another party that he had offended and even more importantly – both those involved buried their differences and gave a joint undertaking to work together for the benefit of Thanet and its residents. That’s how we work in the Labour Group in our relations with others.
In response to the statement saying we are ‘distant from the reality of peoples lives’. Come along to our Labour councillor surgeries, to our community safety meetings, to all our residents and public meetings. Walk the streets with us delivering ward newsletters to many thousands of homes every month, meeting members of the public in their own homes and on their own doorsteps and discussing their issues with them eye to eye to eye. It’s nothing short of an insult to describe Labour Group members as in any way ‘distant from the realities of peoples lives’.
We certainly are a ‘hung’ council and the Labour Group took control under quite unusual circumstances whilst we were still only the second largest party, back in December 2011. The outgoing Conservative administration was clearly ‘bruised’ by this and was left feeling very bitter.
Ironically, two years on and having lost some by-elections and suffered a defection, the Conservative Group now appear to be coming to terms with the reality of the situation and the Labour Group are now clearly the largest party at TDC. That’s why I find the timing of this report quite incredible.
In my opinion, generally speaking, relations between fifty plus councillors have actually improved over the past year.
Unfortunately though, the report does tar all councillors with the same brush and as such I feel compelled as Labour Group leader to clearly explain that my group has no part in the major misdemeanors of councillors at TDC.
I’m not in any way saying my group members are saints but during my term as Labour Group leader:
None of my members have been convicted and sent to prison for fraudulent behaviour.
None of my members have been sent to prison for drinking and driving.
None of my members have been charged for cruelty to animals.
None of my members have received a caution from the Police.
None of my members have stated publicly that they intend not to comply with a democratically agreed decision.
None of my members have stated that they do not intend to comply with Standards hearings.
None of my members have openly mocked the Standards regime on their Internet bloggs.
None of my members have published or threatened to publish confidential TDC papers on the Internet.
And none of my members have secretly filmed their colleagues during meetings.
I’m sure my members would welcome any training opportunity whether it’s needed or not, but I truly fear it may not help some other individuals".
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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