I observed Cambridge City Council’s full council meeting on Thursday the 20th of October 2011. The following oral questions were answered:
Q1 Costs of Police and Crime Commissioner Elections
From Leader of the Labour opposition Cllr Herbert to the Leader of the council, Liberal Democrat Cllr Reid :
What will the extra cost (a) for Cambridge city and b) across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, of postponing the Police Commissioner elections from May to November 2012 and does she support this separate election date initiated by the Liberal Democrats Home Affairs lead in the House of Lords?
Cllr Reid, responded to say that the identifiable costs would be met by the Home Office in a block grant. Some of this would be paid up front, with the remainder, if any, paid after the event.
The East Cambridgeshire District Council chief executive is to be the returning officer.
The costs of running the election within the city of Cambridge will be £60-70k.
Cllr Reid said she wasn’t able to estimate for the county.
Cllr Reid said she was: “sorry these elections are taking place at all”.
Having not got an answer to part of his question Cllr Herbert provided it himself. He said that the cost of the election Cambridge and Peterborough would be £400K. He said he agreed with Cllr Reid, the elected police and crime commissioner was a “totally flawed concept”.
Cllr Herbert said Cllr Reid had not addressed the part of his question referring to the fact the decision to spend £400k in this manner was result of a Liberal Democrat intervention.
Cllr Reid responded to the follow up stressing that she thought Police and Crime Commissioners were “unsatisfactory” and noted they had not been tried before. Cllr Reid said she hadn’t followed the details of who did what when in the developing of the legislation. (Councillors jeered in disbelief at this)
Cllr Reid said that she was aware of the arguments for holding the elections separately – that just one election would allow the public to focus. The timing she said was so it would be after the Olympics and the police would not be distracted during the event.
Q2 Seymour Court Housing Development
From Councillor Moghadas to the Executive Councillor for Housing Cllr Smart
How are you addressing the clash of interests between meeting the functional housing requirement, balancing the council budget and ensuring the design of the Seymour Court site meets the full needs of the community and enhances the street landscape?
Cllr Smart responded to say that the mixed tenure model the council has got is designed to address the points raised in the question.
Cllr Smart stated that: “Functional housing will be covered by the fact all new homes will ‘level 4′ code sustainable houses”. 2/21 council flats will be fully wheelchair accessible. She said analysis will be carreid out of local need. The property is near shops and local facilities so will be suited to older people , is hoped those in near vicinity will be tempted to relocate.
Cllr Smart said there are 250 households in “this position” [Older People who might want to relocate?] in the Romsey / Cherry Hinton Road area.
Clr Moghadas followed up to say she was “talking on behalf of a number of residents in terms of appropriateness. She said 21 “flat units” were proposed and plans for 9 family homes had become 15 which had “squeezed the land space”. She also spoke of a “4 story monolithic build”.
Cllr Smart pointed to a related written question response which she said revealed some proposal for redesign, which she said she hoped would go far enough..
Cllr Smart added: “Planning will always look at overlooking, appearance etc.” and noted Seymour Court is not too far away from Mill House – quite a big building – depends on how you define the area [if you're saying four stories is too high for the area]. Cllr Smart said we are short of land in the city, have to make best use of the land. Cllr Smart repeated her hope a new better design would be recieved.
Q3 Stars on Bins
From Cllr Owers to the Executive Councillor for Environmental and Waste Services Cllr Swanson.
What is the precise reasoning behind the “Gold Star” bin scheme in terms of reducing household waste and increasing recycling.
Cllr Swanson replied to say Gold Stars apply to 140L bins, the small ones.
The idea is two fold it:
- To raise public awareness that other households have reduced waste. The aim being to make waste reduction a social norm
- To advertise the availability of the smaller bins and point to further information sources
Cllr Swanson said there was evidence some people respond more to visual example, and the stars were a low cost drip drip approach.
She said 16 small bins had been ordered in the 21 days before the press coverage of the gold stars and 40 in the 21 days after it.
There are currently 59 bins with gold stars in the city.
[On Twitter during the meeting Cllr McGovern offered a prize of a pint of beer to anyone who could find them all].
Cllr Owers followed up to ask if there were plans to bring in another measures usually associated with children, such as a “naughty step” or detention. He pointed out family houses or groups of shares had no chance of earning a gold star. He finished his remarks with a rather combative “Respond to that!”.
Cllr Swanson said a big advantage of the campaign was the amount of media coverage, she said this gave the council another chance to talk about reducing the amount of waste produced.
Q4 Homless and Vulnerably Housed
Councillor Cantrill to the Executive Councillor for Housing, Cllr Smart.
The council commits significant resources to supporting and helping the disadvantaged within Cambridge particularly those who are homeless and vulnerably housed. This is welcomed at a time of hardship for many people.
Could the Executive Councillor for Housing indication what actions we are taking to help people progress towards a more stable life?
Cllr Cantrill declared an interest as a trustee of Wintercomfort.
Cllr Smart responded to say: “We do actually do quite a lot , if there are other things we could be doing let me know”.
She said the council took a homelessness grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government to “alleviate and tackle homelessness options”.
Cllr Smart said the council did work on many areas which help prevent homelessness, such as providing debt, money and legal advice.
The council provides bespoke employment advice from those who are homeless / vulnerably housed.
On rough sleeping the council has a dedicated team who are “tackling it at great length”.
Cllr Cantrill followed up asking; “What are we doing for those who’s lives are particularly chaotic and those who suffer from chronic exclusion?”.
Cllr Smart said there are specialist service for those who are chronically excluded. The council of is running one of three pilot services in country for tailor made support for those who fall through the net at almost every place they go and don’t get services they need. Cllr Smart said the service was delivering encouraging results and the council plans to extend it beyond its intended termination date of December.
Q5 Holy Trinity War Memorial
From Councillor Dryden to the Executive Councillor for Arts, Sport and Public Places, Cllr Cantrill.
In March 2008 I first asked the question to the council if we could reinstate the Holy Trinity War Memorial so it could be brought back into use for residents and visitors to Cambridge. In June 2010 it was finally agreed by the City Council that there was money now available to carry out this work so the War Memorial could be open to the public. We are in October 2011, how near are we now to opening up the Holy Trinity War Memorial to the general public?
Cllr Cantrill replied to say many members worked with officers to get funding to refurbish the memorial, but the work was complicated by the presence of a red ceder tree.
Cllr Cantrill said that in order to do the work there is need for: “Action taken against the tree”.
Cllr Cantrill said Cllr Dryden wanted to just fell the tree, but he was keen to take more care over the decision.
Cllr Cantrill said that following “extensive consultation” the council’s planning committee had recommended the tree be felled
The council’s community services committee had then recommended it should be felled.
The church locally referred the decision to Lambeth Palace, who came to the conclusion the tree should be felled.
Cllr Dryden responded to say he didn’t anticipate any need to fell the tree. He asked for the proposed date of work starting. He accused Cllr Cantrill of being very slow to make a decision, even one this small.
Cllr Cantrill blamed the church for the delay saying “God takes slightly longer”. A councillor heckled to say God had made the world in seven days.
No start date, or end date, for the work was provided.
Q6 CCTV Monitoring
Councillor O’Reilly to the Executive Councillor for Community Development and Health, Cllr Bick, (Who is also responsible for community safety and policing)
Is the Executive Councilor concerned that ending the live monitoring of CCTV at certain times could lead to an increase in crime during those hours?
Cllr Bick said he would be concerned if a rise in crime was expected. He said though that on the evidence and specalist advice he had accepted this was not predicted.
Cllr O’Reilly followed up to say the perception the CCTV might be monitored was likely to have a role in preventing crime and said it was silly to publish hours CCTV might not be monitored.
Cllr Bick replied to say he made no apology for openness. Cllr Bick said press reports contained “assumptions and deductions” and the hours remain to be determined and would vary with time of year and around events etc.
Green Councillor Wright to the Leader, Cllr Sian Reid
What did the council expend on consulting the public in the council year May 2010 – May 2011 and on which areas of council activity? How is the effectiveness of such consultations assessed?
Cllr Reid said this was a very broad question and the bulk of the council’s consultation was statutory, on planning matters. There was also some in other areas eg. Open Space Management. She said she didn’t include staff and informal consultation.
Cllr Reid said effectiveness was assessed in a variety of ways, and where the council consulted with tenants there were independent external verifications.
Simple assessments of number of responses could be done in relation to other consultations.
Cllr Reid said she hoped qualitative judgements on consultation quality were made when reports on consultation results were reported to committees.
Cllr Wright followed up to urge tightening or improving the council’s proceedures. She said information given to the public doesn’t’ seem to give enough of background to enable an adequate response to be provided. Cllr Wright said despite no extra funding being available “we can improve”.
Cllr Reid said it was good to hear members are evaluating the consultation process when it comes to committee. She said disappointed to hear of Cllr Wright’s experience relating to a conservation area consultation (this one?) and in her experience conservation area consultations were good.
Cllr Reid said she accepted the need to do things better all the time and offered to set up meeting between Cllr Wright and relevant officers to work through issues.
End of questions taken at the meeting
Q8 City Centre Management
Councillor Bird to the Executive Councillor for Customer Services and Resources, Cllr McGovern.
Why does the city centre management not work better with City Councillors when they take issues to them?
I would like to ask what is happening to stop the preventing sprawling street cafes expanding far that they block both pavements and A Boards which causes problems for the wheelchair pushchair access.
Commendably Cllr McGovern tweeted a link to his prepared answer during the meeting.
a) I have contacted the Head of Tourism and City Centre Management to try
and determine any particular incident, but with the information
provided, I was unable to find a specific incident that is being
However, I, and the City Centre Management team apologises if some
councillors have the perception that issues are not dealt with quickly
when they are raised with them. It is a small team of 3 people working
over a 7 day period which has been affected by long term sickness over
the past 12 months and more recently by short term illness. In addition
some of the issues raised often require in put from the County Council
as the highways agency which can delay a response.
In recognition of these resilience issues the department is currently
investigating the introduction of an electronic Market system. A key
objective of this will be to improve the efficiency of back office
processes thus freeing up time for this team to focus more on
operational issues and the development of the Market.
The Head of Service will remind all staff of the importance of
acknowledging emails from councillors promptly and of keeping
councillors informed throughout the progress of investigating and
dealing with any issues that have been raised.
b) I refer Cllr Bird to the written answer provided to Cllr Herbert at
the Council Meeting on the same subject matter.
This response appears to reveal Cambridge market is administered via a non-computerised system at the moment.
After the meeting I commented to the meeting’s chair, mayor, Cllr Nimmo-Smith, that he had not ordered written answers to unreached oral questions be provided. (Cllr Price made this point during the meeting, but the Mayor did not respond to it). Cllr Nimmo-Smith gave an assurance that any answers which were provided via the council would be published. He also gave a commitment to join me in campaigning to have some formal process for dealing with the unanswered oral questions agreed. (With the Mayor on-side that ought to be a campaign with some chance of success!)
When I first observed the council the oral questions were oddly not considered part of the formal council meeting and therefore not even minuted, they now, following lobbying, and a bit of activism, are both formally part of the meeting, and minuted.
The minutes though are, based on past form, unlikely to be as full and rich as the above article (unless the officer writing them wants to save some time and copy and paste what I’ve written in, which they are welcome to do, with attribution!).