When is a Decision not a Decision … when it is ‘SPIN’

Recently RBWM Cabinet voted through changes affecting families and our youth, the opposition challenged their decision making process by calling it in and have opened a big can of worms… WAS THE DECISION NOT A DECISION?

I found it all rather confusing and I’m sure I’m not alone… why are they repositioning the Call In? To avoid the embarrassment of admitting they got it wrong in the first place? Or did the opposition miss some key points? Can they do this? As for how it was Chaired! So many breaches of governance or are the rules laid down just niceties?

The beauty of the new world is that rather than some scratched tape recording of meetings, we now have full, clear video of who said what and when. So no wiggle room for those use to just smudging their way through proceedings. This will see huge changes in the way the ruling party is literally seen by the electorate… the Call In video will be used by the LGA for years to come in how not to chair an O&S meeting!

I asked Cllr Lynne Jones to share her thoughts on how this is being managed by the ruling party. It’s her title 😉

Below are links to the key documents, followed by an insightful summary of how Cllr Jones, Leader of Local Independents, saw the situation…

Cabinet
Thursday, 30th April, 2020 5.30 pm

Children’s Centres Consultation Results – Family Hubs

RECOMMENDATION: That Cabinet notes the report and:

i) Agrees to a remodelling of Family Resilience Services, Children’s Centres and Youth Services to a “Family Hub” model (see appendix 1-diagram of the proposed Integrated Family Hub model).

ii) Agrees to the prioritising of services for children, young people and families most in need as set out in 3.3 and 3.4.

REASON(S) FOR RECOMMENDATION(S) AND OPTIONS CONSIDERED

Transform Family Resilience Services, Children’s Centres and Youth Services into an integrated Family Hub model, which focuses on supporting and improving outcomes for those children, young people and families most in need of help.

Doing this will entail:

  • Closure of selected Children’s Centres and Youth Centres while preserving sites in geographical areas of need, contributing an annual revenue, saving £63,823.
  • Reduction in volume of universal and preventative services offered by these teams.
  • Greater links with the voluntary/ charitable sector who can provide some of the universal offer.
  • Deleting 24 posts, resulting in 17 redundancies, including the merging of childminder responsibilities from the education service.

Here are the minutes of the debate… it was Resolved unanimously

Adults, Children and Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel
Thursday, 14th May, 2020 6.15 pm

The reasons for the CALL IN can be found here…

Over to Cllr Lynne Jones…

Lynne Jones RBWM Council Meeting

Last night I listened aghast to the Call-in on the Cabinet decision (taken 30 th April) to close 14 children’s centre and youth sites , move to an Integrated Family Hub model and save £600,000 per annum.

This paper has been flawed from the start.

The Cabinet paper was late in being published. Rather than the 5 working days indicated by the constitution, opposition councillors only had sight of the paper the day before the original scrutiny panel convened. The closure of Children’s and Youth centres is a complicated business as there are so many legal aspects that need to be followed and considered, the decision should not be rushed.

Questions and reservations were raised at the Cabinet meeting but were dismissed as not being pertinent.

Cllrs Baldwin, Tisi, Del Campo, Werner (Lib Dem) and Price (tBf) signed the Call-in on the basis that the decision had been taken without full consultation and without legal considerations such as Access and Equality Impact.

I was absolutely horrified that Cllr Julian Sharpe, the Chair of the Scrutiny Panel started the meeting (see above) with a statement that he was ‘disappointed’ in the call-in and pre determining ‘that the requirements would fall away’.

His role is to be a non-partisan chair who should foster discussion, keeping the scrutiny process free from political point scoring and allowing for the effective scrutiny of all evidence that is produced.

His diversion from the constitutional call-in process and the inability to acknowledge that the signatory members need to present the evidence, before officers and his administration colleagues speak was embarrassing as was the interruption of Cllr Helen Price as she was presenting her evidence……. but not as embarrassing as the lack of knowledge of the existence of his own panel member, a co-opted school governor, who was seeking clarification on the substance of the vote and did not receive an answer. Scrutiny chairs receive a special allowance of £6107.00 per annum on top of their basic allowance to acknowledge the responsibility of ensuring that the scrutiny process is democratic and fair.

We heard the signatory councillors speak eloquently on why the decision, as set out in the Cabinet paper was flawed and unsafe. This cannot be refuted. The Officers and Lead Member may have spoken about another consultation, they may have intended to consider the legal aspects in a ‘further stage’…. But those words were not in the published paper and that WAS NOT the decision that was taken by Cabinet on the 30 th April 2020

REPORT SUMMARY
4. This paper sets out the changes that will be required in light of the consultation feedback to deliver the family hubs, including changes to one Children’s and Youth Centres, including closure of 14 sites, and retaining 5 centres.
5. Whilst delivering a more targeted service for vulnerable families, the proposed design delivers a full year cost reduction of £600,000. The base budget before savings was £4,101,480 which will reduce to £3,501,480.
However it is recognised that as the implementation is planned part year, the savings for 2020/2021 will be reduced to £450,000 resulting in a revised budget of £3,651,480. This budget position was approved by full Council 25th February 2020.

RECOMMENDATION: That Cabinet notes the report and:
i) Agrees to a remodelling of Family Resilience Services, Children’s Centres and Youth Services to a “Family Hub” model (see appendix 1-diagram of the proposed Integrated Family Hub model).
ii) Agrees to the prioritising of services for children, young people and families most in need as set out in 3.3 and 3.4.

Instead of acknowledging that there was an issue, and the paper had not represented their intent, what followed was just bluster and spin. Cllr Carroll (Lead Member) suggested it was misapprehension on the Opposition Councillors behalf and the paper just required ‘clarification’ or ‘clarity’.

This ‘bluster and spin’ continued on twitter.

It was not a request. It was not an amendment for semantical purposes. It was a Call-in because the decision taken was unsafe it its published form. The decision was quashed, and a new paper will be presented at Cabinet for a new decision.

The administration must stop treating the opposition councillors with derision, it was the lateness and inadequacy of the paper combined with the refusal to carefully consider the comments from all councillors at Cabinet that culminated in the Call-In. It must also step-up and acknowledge when mistakes are made, again a culture that they must change to move forward in their stated ‘collaborative way’.

Having reflected on the events of Thursday I believe the most important ‘learning’ out of this is to LISTEN, nearly half of the councillors at RBWM are not Conservatives but they have skill sets that cannot be found in the Administration, they must be utilised and councillors involved much earlier in the papers’ evolution, only then can we say that decision making is truly evidenced.

‘When you talk, you are only repeating what you know. But if you listen, you may learn something new’ – Dalai Lama

Cllr Lynne Jones
Leader of Local Independents
Cllr for Old Windsor Ward

“It must also step-up and acknowledge when mistakes are made”…” Of course they will Lynne, the Conservatives are known for admitting when they have done something wrong 😉

Thank you for adding some clarity to this muddy water… let’s see what happens next and if indeed they recognise the reality that the new video meetings show their cavalier attitude to governance and they can’t simply brush it off with some flippant comment aimed at deflecting the truth of what’s right in front of us.

Change is coming…

Thank you.

Jon

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