Michael Deacon, the political sketch-writer for the Telegraph has recently bemoaned the fact that his role has become merely one of transcription as the quality of discourse in the House Of Commons has descended to such an extent all he needs to do is simply write down what is said, because the truth itself has become beyond parody.
It is with this in mind, that we ask you to read our account of part of the Hart Council meeting that took place on 25 February 2016.
There were a number of formalities about the minutes and questions from members of the public that we shall cover later in this post.
We then moved on the section of the meeting where the council signs off the minutes of meetings from committees.
The chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee raised what appeared to be a perfectly sensible point that members who are appointed to the O&S Committee of the newly formed Joint Procurement contract should also be members of Hart’s O&S Committee. We thought this would take about 30 seconds to resolve. How wrong we were.
After some back and forth discussion, the Leader proposed an ill-defined motion of amendment to agree with part of the suggestion, but leave unresolved some of the finer points of detail.
As he finished speaking, the room was filled by the sound of various moans and grunts, resembling the sound of a bagpiper tuning up, as a number of councillors inflated themselves into a state of maximum self-importance. It is a pity that these inflation efforts were inversely matched by their vacuous contributions.
“How will we cope”, demanded one councillor, “if the meetings of this new committee are arranged for a time when Hart’s delegates might have an appointment at the hairdressers?”
At this point, there was a loud sucking noise as the life-force began to be drained from everyone in the room, as if a dementor had entered the building.
One can only speculate as to the motives of the councillors involved for indulging in such filibustering. Perhaps it was displacement activity, because the upcoming discussion on how to fix the forecast £1.16m budget deficit in 2017/18 was going to be “too technical” for them.
After the discussion about the finer points of the details of the process how to select two people to sit on the joint O&S Committee had continued for 20 minutes, I was overwhelmed by an insatiable desire to go home and watch some paint dry.
Now I will never know how they propose to fix the deficit, which is around 10% of spending, a bigger budget deficit than Greece. But no doubt they did work out how to resolve a diary clash.
The first item on the agenda was the minutes of the previous meeting. We did point out that there was a factual inaccuracy in the minutes, in that the information the chairman said was available on the planning portal is not in fact available. I also informed him that the FOI request the minutes advised me to make to find out how many 1 & 2-bed homes we had built or permitted and how many specialist units for the elderly we had built had in fact been rejected. The minutes were not amended, but were signed off.
It is striking that not a single councillor was endowed with enough curiosity to find out how well Hart had been meeting the housing needs of the District as expressed in the SHMA.
Last night we asked what we thought were three relatively innocuous questions, which we will cover in another post.
The first was a request to understand more about the remit and objectives of the Cabinet Member for Town and Village Regeneration. We found it rather odd that the Leader of the council did not think his own cabinet member was capable of answering questions about his own role. The answer we got was bland and did not include mention of a single objective, other than it had been deemed important that the role encompassed car-parking charges, because of the important link between car-parking and regeneration.
The second question was about the proposals in the corporate plan for the council to create a trading entity to build houses. We got a reasonable response to this question, but it is clear that the idea is at a very early stage and nothing has yet been agreed.
Finally, we tried to ask a question whose answer was designed to provide evidence to combat developers who are insisting that Hart is not building enough houses. This was inspired by the recent House of Lords report that showed that in recent years 100,000 fewer houses were built each year than were granted permission. Hart Council only has control over granting permission and cannot control the rate of building. The question simply asked “for each of the past five years on how many houses have been permitted and how many built in Hart District. This was ruled ‘too technical’ for council and will be referred to the FOI request process.