Democracy only works when you are in charge!

This was a comment I made to the Leader of Sutton Council at the reception for the new Mayor of Sutton a couple of months ago.

It wasn’t well received and with recent events, I think we have a real gap opening up between our politicians and the public that they claim to serve. 

There was a recent Full Council meeting held on 22nd July.  Within the agenda was a petition delivered by Extinction Rebellion seeking declaration of a climate emergency and carbon neutrality in Sutton by 2030.  Alongside that was another Motion proposed by a Lib Dem Councillor that equally sought declaration of a climate emergency but a later date, 2045 for carbon neutrality

Some days before that meeting, we received an email from Cllr Penneck, a key Lib Dem strategist asking if we felt the two should be combined into one debate.  The Conservative opposition were vociferously against that and wanted two separate items.

When the petition came up, the content had been revised into a set of officer recommendations with options of 2030, 2045 or no climate emergency.

The Leader of the Tories, Cllr Tim Crowley quite rightly demanded that there should be a straightforward vote on the content and context of the original petition.  After consideration by the Mayor, this was allowed and, with absences on the Lib Dem benches, three votes for the petition as well as two abstentions from the ruling party, and the petition was carried.

Let’s be clear, that meant that on a free vote, the elected representatives of the residents of Sutton voted for carbon neutrality by 2030.

Then we have a “debate” about the very same subject which, with the unanimity of the Liberal Democrat majority (including those who had voted  for the earlier petition as well as those who had abstained) was carried against the abstention of all opposition members, Conservative and Independent.

A call came from the rather dumbfounded opposition to the Mayor and Chief Executive of the Council

“Which one counts – 2030 or 2045”

to which the ambivalent answer came

“Both!”.

Earlier in the evening, I had posed the question to the Leader of the Ruling Group about the make-up of the Scrutiny Committee. Like every committee, apart from Audit & Governance, it is made up with members in proportion to the overall party representation in Council. 

Audit & Governance occupies a unique position of neutrality as it has equal numbers of the ruling group and opposition as well as an independent member of the public.

I quoted the Constitution of the London Borough of Sutton wherein there is a whole section about “The Purpose of the Constitution” – in section 1:3, it states:

  • Ensure that no on will review or scrutinise a decision in which they were directly involved.

I suggested that the handling of public petitions by the Committees who had originally agreed a policy that the petitioner(s) were appealing against should be reviewed as well as the make-up of the Scrutiny and Planning Committees.

Nobody who believes in democracy can dispute the right of a winner in an election, to establish the agenda and, through cabinet or committee, seeking to implement that agenda.

However, there needs to be a system of public scrutiny / accountability to ensure that the public we are here to serve have a transparent perspective of decision making.

For example, the Housing Economy and Business Committee (HEB), chaired by Cllr McCoy the Deputy Leader of the ruling group establishes housing strategies.  Some of these are implemented by the London Borough of Sutton’s wholly owned property development company, Sutton Living.  All LBS owned companies come under the oversight of the Shareholding Committee lead by Cllr McCoy, who, although not on the Planning Committee is the ruling group’s “Lead Member on Planning”

Planning applications deriving from all sources including HEB strategies as well as development plans from Sutton Living are considered by the Planning Committee.  As is emphasised at every opportunity, this is a quasi-judicial committee – so why does it need a majority of ruling group members and a chair from the same party? How can we know that all decisions are dispassionately arrived at?

I believe in democracy and I believe in fairness – to bludgeon policy through to legislation by use of a majority without effective oversight and scrutiny is not democracy, it is a bullying dictatorship.

This is not a fight against the current ruling group – I am sure there are Councils run by parties of all persuasions who will seek to drive their own agendas through.

No, this is all about fairness to the people we seek to serve.

Let’s call it an Independent view.

Bin it for Beddington

Slow Progress and Politics – the Frustrations of an Independent Councillor

  • Politics
  • Parking
  • Sheen Way
  • Beddington Farmlands
  • And more

We have all seen the performances in the Houses of Parliament, in recent months, the apparent gap between the perceptions of politicians and those of “ordinary people”.  Factional, internecine warfare amongst the politicians in Westminster has seen day to day issues that they should be involved in stalled – is it a strong Opposition holding an errant Government to account – no, they are all embroiled in presenting what they think may get them elected if and when the next election comes around.

And sadly, the same can be said of Local Government – when one attends a Full Council meeting, “debate” amounts to Opposition critique of the ruling Liberal Democrats who riposte with “Government Cuts”.  Other debates bring forward side issues like Single Use Plastics or pledges around Anti-Bullying week.

All the while, we have noises off from the Carshalton and Wallington MP, Tom Brake directing and interfering because he knows that his Parliamentary career could be damaged by unpopular local Lib Dem policies.

The Parking Strategy is a typical example – poorly conceived, appallingly communicated, it created a massive backlash from local residents.  A Council meeting at Carshalton College was attended by 100’s of residents and, confronted by real people, Standing Orders and procedural matters were shown for their irrelevance in the real world.

In a panic reaction, you had Mr Brake pontificating and canvassing, followed by Social Media Posts by Liberal Democrat Councillors claiming “victories” on behalf of their residents when some changes were made. 

It was their policy in the first place, did they not have any appreciation of local residents’ lifestyles or needs?

The process of a Traffic Management Order (TMO) is in progress with the well defined Controlled Parking Zones (CPZ) of the initial questionnaires, replaced by a delightfully vague concept of Permitted Parking Area (PPA) – vague in definition, vague in signposting and of course vague in communication.

In Beddington North, we have yet to even experience Stage 1 of this comedy of errors that is the London Borough of Sutton’s Parking Strategy (Revised) but sadly it is likely that our residents may fall foul of the system before it reaches us.

Visiting a friend in a PPA, an electrician called to a job in a PPA or organising a caring visit to an elderly relative in a PPA?  All could get you a fine.

That TMO that would tell you all about the PPA’s – it will be on the LBS website, if you can find it.  They will make it legal by publishing it in the Sutton Guardian, if you get access to a copy or find the paper online. 

Is any real effort made on behalf of the community? No.

Oh – the single use plastics – you’ll be pleased to know that the coffee machines in the meeting rooms have been replaced by flasks.  And bullying – an even bigger farce.

Anti Bullying Week was 12th-16th November 2018 and this coincided with a Full Council where there was unanimity amongst the Councillors of every persuasion against bullying. For PR purposes, a pledge was produced on card – a bit like one of those winner’s cheques in competitions – and Councillors were invited to sign their name on the board.

The minutes of that Council meeting say that the pledge would show on Councillors’ individual profiles on the Council website.

I am not into political PR and declined to sign – the board, well that could be seen leaning up against a wall in the Members’ Area in the Civic Offices, apparently as an invitation to sign it.

Did the Council put the pledge on Councillor profiles – with their normal inimitable efficiency they did so on 10th June 2019 – 7 months later – to coincide with follow up training on the issue. 

At the end of that training session, I observed that the exclusion of anti bullying references on some Councillor’s profiles inferred their support of bullying and was counter intuitive as many of those Councillors who had the pledge on their profiles had not even attended the training.

Immediately I was surrounded by a hectoring collection of Lib Dem Councillors telling me I only had to sign the pledge.  History records all sorts of unpleasant organisations that sought similar compliance!

Anyway, I have since made my point vociferously to Committee Services and suggested that they remove the “Pledge” with its signatures from the debris of the Members’ Area to a  to a public display – maybe in the main entrance alongside the picture of all the Councillors so that residents can compare their actions, say on parking issues, with the words!

But we are keeping focussed on what our residents tell us – the new bus service – Go Sutton – isn’t a lot of good because it doesn’t Go Beddington! That is unlike the X26 that at least goes through Beddington, we are still lobbying to get it to stop there!

We continue to battle on behalf of Highview Residents and pupils of Carew Manor – if the London Borough of Sutton had done the job they were supposed to do and conducted a proper search for the BEST site for a SEN school there would be a Plan B.  There isn’t one, according to LBS, they will have to stay at Carew Manor if they cannot move to Sheen Way!

The Planning Application submitted has not yet even been validated and LBS have let down Orchard Hill Trust, the staff and pupils of Carew Manor, the Department of Education who have committed funds and of course (as always) the residents.

A good start on Beddington Farmlands – finally appointed as Chair of the Conservation and Access Committee, I have proposed inclusion of community members to the group and we have a road map to measure progress.  The support of Councillor Jillian Green on that committee is another bonus voice for the people of Beddington.

Beddington Farmlands Restoration Roadmap

Frustrations?   Still no sign of the TMO to ban lorries in Beddington Village although we now have a very pretty bit of signwriting on the wall outside the Village Hall to ensure that you know where you are!

Interesting how the Council can suspend the TMO process when it suits them – bet they won’t delay on the Parking!

Sadly the next meeting of the BNNF clashes with Full Council so you will miss our smiling faces but we will prepare proper reports to keep residents up to date.

Keep in touch – full contact details are on the Council website https://moderngov.sutton.gov.uk/mgMemberIndex.aspx?bcr=1

Bin it for Beddington