What is the point of an Overview & Scrutiny Panel if all it does is act as a nodding dog… simply conducting the meetings to tick a legal box with no real intention of actually scrutinizing reports?
In the signed off Infrastructure O&S Annual Scrutiny Report, section 7 dealt with “proposals for improvement” and makes a statement which should be a given… I made it clear in the meeting of 6th April that I thought the report was vanilla and a waste of time…
“7.7 Greater scrutiny of reports and policies and provision of recommendations to Cabinet by the Panel.
Unless you are making reasonable constructive evidenced recommendations to Cabinet (and others) – then what is the point of the meeting?
As I see it, the concept of Overview & Scrutiny is to offer two distinct services for the benefit of RBWM residents:
- Overview is about understanding topics better, training so Councillors are better equipped to fulfil their role. And to…
- Scrutinise decisions, made by the administration and cabinet, to ensure they are doing what is best for the long term benefit of RBWM and its residents.
My experience over the last year of proactively trying to ensure O&S fulfils its role has been far from satisfactory.
Overview appears to be impossible since the “cupboard is bare” and we don’t have anywhere near enough internal resources to provide training?
As for scrutiny! The Tory administration doesn’t like anyone asking any questions about its decisions and since they have the casting vote, simply brush aside anything that might actually challenge them.
The Tory solution to O&S is simple, put in a chair that does as they are told by the cabinet and simply block anyone that tries to question or slow down THE AGENDA… whatever that is?
This is no way to run O&S and so I am forced to approach things in a different way.
REFLECTING ON RECENT EVENTS
Just look at what happened at the last meeting, 8th June, finished by 7:30pm and the Chair failed to add any topics to the next planned panel meeting on 21st September from the Work Programme. Absolute joke… and the chair is paid £4,956 a year of ratepayers money… your money!
So if there are no extra meetings called then that is £1,249 per meeting lasting a little over an hour… nice rate of pay if you can get it and in my book, not choosing topics from the Work Programme demonstrates a serious lack of respect for the O&S process, the RBWM and its residents.
Despite “Street Lighting” being put on the agenda on 6th April, for 8th June, it was removed and no discussion was had after I had submitted my own questions on the topic. My questions, see below, touched on 5G?
I’ll attend the meetings this year but they will essentially be pointless as all the indications are nothing will be achieved from the current O&S process.
The only way to make O&S function in any way properly will be through public pressure forcing extra panel meetings called around specific topics.
PUBLIC PRESSURE FORCES A RESPONSE
LOW TRAFFIC NEIGHBOURHOODS
Look what happened with the planned Low Traffic Neighbourhood. Had the public voted in Tories in every ward in the last election, then the LTN would have been the current situation. I saw what was happening and flagged it immediately to residents who completed the consultation. No major changes to the highway network were instigated and plans for the LTNs were stopped in their tracks.
Over 20 x 5G Masts have just sailed through planning since lock down. I’m hopeful that the 50 plus objections from residents, influential local organisations and the RBWM officers’ reports on the application for Ruddlesway will offer enough weight for it to be refused and the Inspector has the appropriate evidence not to grant any appeal.
IF NO PUBLIC PRESSURE – STREET LIGHTING
At the previous meeting, on 6th April, Street Lighting was added after the Chair struggled to make any decisions on topics and I found myself stepping up again!
I pushed out a blog post asking residents for their questions on Street Lighting on 18th April and a number of people brought forward specific lighting in their neighbourhood. Some that hadn’t been working a while, judging by FB, may have got resolved.
My own submission, sent to officers on 16th April, asking more probing questions, generated the response below on 20th April:
Do we use Telensa LED Street lights or similar? We use Telensa central management system in unison with a Zeta manufactured lantern.
Do we currently gather data via the 5G connection about the lighting? No. Telensa uses a 3G connection to relay information between the nodes (on LED lanterns) and the base stations.
Do we have any agreements in place with any third parties relating to the data? No
Do we have plans to use the street lights to gather any data, if so what and how? There are presently no plans to use the street lights to gather data. The existing central management system is a lighting management tool used for dimming and monitoring the lantern.
Would the use of 5G via street lights create a radar effect in the area around the street lights? I cannot answer this as not a 5G expert and street lighting does not use 5G technology.
My follow up suggestion on the 22nd April was brushed aside and the topic removed from the O&S Agenda with the excuse that any street lighting queries could be dealt with as individual questions… all rather convenient.
I had another pre application request, this time for a brand new 5G mast at the end of Ruddlesway, opposite Kenrith Community Centre.
3G used today will be 5G tomorrow and PHE solicitors have put the ownership on councils to do the research.
There is no direct will for this Tory Administration to look deeper as it fits with the Government agenda.
OFFICER NAME I would request you start familiarising yourself with how 5G used via the streetlights might create a radar effect and if that could have a negative impact on the residents.
When, on 10th May, in one of my monthly meetings with senior officers, I asked about how we might go about testing EMF safety levels in residential homes and the feedback from two of the four officers in attendance suggested the level of active response would be commensurate with the media pressure! I had to give my head a wobble and qualify what I heard, it was sadly so… is that really how we roll?
Is there any wonder, after the Tories have actively culled the officer base over years, that this is how decisions are made… reacting to media pressure rather than residents’ needs?
That helps explain why the media has been similarly culled on a national level, leaving the papers devoid of in-depth articles as traditional advertisers dry up under COVID and the main source of income becomes Government ad campaigns. Best not bite the hand that feeds!
And so my conclusion is that the only possible way for an opposition Councillor to get any sort of democratic fair hearing will be through the public’s response to social media posts forcing the administration to engage in a professional manner?
Reminds me of what motivated me to become a Councillor… recognising that seemingly, the only way to have a say about what happens at RBWM is to be a ward Councillor. It would seem that was naive… the only way that residents’ voices are heard and true democracy has any sort of a chance at RBWM is for the public to ensure they vote for a completely mixed bag of candidates, ensuring no one political party has overall control. Over to you.
OK, so what will be the first topic for public debate? Let’s have a ponder…