Full Council 20th July 2021 – Vote on Windsor Town Council

You can watch the video but the sound quality is awful and I have complained to the Mayor and MD

I put together the following which was much of my contribution to the Full Council on 20th July 2021. I hadn’t fleshed out my Windsor Town Council contribution as it was a simple salute to the project, assuming it would be voted through… how wrong was I !

The way questions work. We submit up to 2 by a deadline, approx. 2 weeks before the meeting, responses are published 1 week before and we are allowed a supplementary question which they don’t see beforehand but tend to repeat their answer!

Motions get voted on by the Full Council and I work on the assumption the Tories will all vote the same way and so will win any vote they choose. I use it strategically to highlight shortcomings but don’t tell them 😉

Windsor Town Council

  • I welcome the formation of the Windsor Town Council
  • 21 additional Cllrs with a passion for helping others
  • I have seen the positive impact of Bray Parish council on my ward… many hands make light work
  • Local people dealing with local issues
  • If there’s a problem with a contractor then the clerk is easy to find, they know who to speak to at RBWM with answers and solutions swiftly following
  • Contracts could be more easily shared out with local tradespeople, the Regional Economic Multiplier Effect given the opportunity to shine through… that’s where £1 goes to 6 other businesses locally.
  • If Jack’s Massey Furgerson has blown a gasket, young Rayner, always reliable, will be on the job straight away 😉
  • Precept can be grown, for items identified by the community as a benefit, through consultations
  • I urge you to vote for Windsor Town Council

Question to Cllr Johnson

One issue highlighted by the CIPFA Review of Governance 2020 was that there was “no appropriate challenge or recognition that challenge was a good thing”. What have you done to demonstrate to both the public and this council that you believe challenge is a good thing? And encourage both Members and residents to challenge?

Written response from Cllr Johnson: The Royal Borough is committed to an open and transparent decision making culture and since the CIPFA Governance Review, a number of improvements have been made to embed a culture of robust and appropriate challenge both from within the council and through engagement with residents and external partners. We have done considerable work on the values of the Council that support an open and honest culture. In particular much work has been done on ensuring that reports being presented for decision contain appropriate professional advice to enable Members to make robust and well thought through decisions. In addition, there are clearer processes to show how decisions are made and who is making them and officers have been trained so that the roles/responsibilities of officers and Members are better understood. We have opened up our meetings virtually and this is yielding higher levels of engagement with our communities. We are working together with our parish councils to develop a better understanding of what they are seeking to achieve. Members will have seen our changed approach to resident and stakeholder engagement being exemplified in our community development response, our libraries transformation, development of the new corporate plan and the consultations that happen throughout the Royal Borough. This opens up the Council to constructive challenge in a way that we haven’t done before, so that we can make better decisions about issues that matter to our communities. 

Reply: I appreciate the efforts of officers, making consultation possible and will encourage their journey.

My primary concern is the way many challenges are met by senior cabinet members on social media channels. Looking to find fault with residents as well as members with heated exchanges resulting in a mirriad of accusations does feel rather churlish and far from “encouraging”.

Can I have Cllr Johnson’s assurance that he will aim to lead by example and encourage challenging engagement in a positive way moving forward? Thank you

Question to Cllr Johnson

The CIPFA Review of Governance 2020 suggested the new Audit Committee and an  Independent Chair. Why did you not take up the recommendation for an Independent Chair?

Written response from Cllr Johnson: At the July 2020 meeting of full Council Members considered a proposal for the transfer of audit oversight functions from the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Panel to a separate Audit and Governance Committee. Following debate, during which Councillor Davey was present, the report was unanimously agreed which included the following: i) Approves amendments to the constitution detailed in Appendix A to establish an Audit and Governance Committee. ii) Appoints Councillor Bateson as Chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee and Councillor L. Jones as Vice Chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee for the remainder of the municipal year. iii) Meeting dates for the remainder of the municipal year be set as: · 14 September 2020 · 9 November 2020 · 16 February 2021 iv) Notes the terms of reference of the Cabinet Transformation SubCommittee detailed in Appendix B. v) Delegates authority to the Monitoring Officer to update and publish the council constitution in line with the recommendations in the report. As I made clear during that debate, and as was ultimately agreed by all Members via the unanimous decision, the key requirements of the chair are the ability to robustly and accurately challenge decision making and without fear or favour, hold the council to account. A key requirement was also to propose and initiate suggestions to strengthen the council’s overall position of robust governance. For that reason, I also made sure that the recommendation included the provision for the position of vicechair to be given to a senior member of the opposition, with Councillor Lynne Jones currently holding that position. The establishment of a sperate audit committee was a key recommendation within the CIPFA report and one we have had no hesitation in implementing following that unanimous approval at the July 2020 meeting of full council.

Reply: As the leader knows, the Vice Chair has no real authority, only that ordained by the chair and he has chosen not to answer my question. So to follow up, the current chair, what qualifications do they have to hold what must be quite a technical role?

He proceeded to not answer the question again!

Motion…

This council agrees to review the issues highlighted within the following reports: RBWM Corporate Peer Review Challenge Sep 2017, CIPFA Review of Financial Governance of July 2019 & CIPFA Review of Governance Final Report of June 2020 and ensure they are fully addressed by March 2022.

At the last full council meeting Cllr Johnson said the administration is candid when it gets things wrong… and there is always room for improvement… 

From the responses given to the questions by myself and Cllr Knowles it is apparent that while officers are doing their best to facilitate the recommendations made by senior members of other councils, there is a level of cherry picking by the administration.

Not making use of the best possible chairs to ensure thorough governance in my opinion is short sighted. 

By way of an example, if we had a hung council next time around, I would strongly recommend Cllr Hilton as Chair of Planning as he has shown exemplary leadership in this area in my opinion.

This evening, making Cllr McWilliams Vice Chair on Planning goes against recommendations that cabinet members should not have chairing roles.

I’m probably very naive and idealistic wanting council to be more accountable, more transparent and open to public criticism, actually “Putting Residents First” not just a soundbite.

Every Councillor who takes the time to read the above reports will find their own issues which need addressing and so it would be good to have those discussions, to identify those issues and look for cross-party agreement on how they might be resolved. 

Officers will be best placed to advise what has been addressed, is in the pipeline and has not been possible to achieve thus far.

Residents are crying out for us to make contractors accountable – Tivoli have been allowed to not perform… every week another complaint from a resident about the grass not being cut… Last week I’m told the shears they use to trim hedges are not working… How is that our problem? Do we just keep paying them or do we challenge and set an example? 

CIPFA were asked to review Governance on the £350k Clewer and Dedworth Neighbourhood Improvements capital scheme, mentioned earlier this evening, that was allowed to go more than £50k over budget!  2 years on, my first question to this council still seems to get a regular mention at Full Council. I must be due bonus points for that Karen 😉 (In the early days I would score myself against others on the number of questions I asked, motions I put forward… Karen Shepherd, Head of Governance, might suggest different wording… I temper that now but after tonight, I may well turn up the temperature!)

Scrutiny not realising its potential was another comment – tell me about it.  I write to the Chair of Infrastructure asking why no topics have been selected and get threatened that if I don’t stop emailing that they will take further action… what should I read into that? 

At the last Council meeting Cllr Johnson said that there is a lack of ambition in bringing forward credible ideas to scrutiny… 

Last year, I encouraged members and residents to bring forward their ideas & issues that matter to them… over 40 topics came forward, there are still a dozen or more on the work schedule! 

My reward, to be pushed to one side…

Cllr Johnson said the administration is candid when it gets things wrong… and there is always room for improvement…

So be candid, vote for this motion and ensure each and every issue is challenged and each and every issue is addressed, putting residents first… that would be a major success for this administration.

Thank you.

Tories voted against as expected.

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