Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Full Council - June 2019

Pontypool Civic Centre

It's been ages since I did a write up of full council, but I told myself I'd blog more about real life which encompasses work just as much as whatever shiny new topic is holding my interest that week!

This is my third year as chair - 'presiding member' - now so I've been given more responsibility for the meeting than I had in the beginning. Eg. When I started an officer wrote me an idiot proof script to read from, whereas now I write my own (less idiot proof) version. Democratic Services also [unwisely?] trust me to operate the webcast myself. So every time the agenda items don't match up with the timings, you know whose fault it is...

Today we had a short flag raising service lead by the Reverend Canon Harald Thomas to commemorate Armed Forces Day. Harald was my chaplain when I was Mayor, and was then asked by the council leader to continue saying prayers before meetings when we changed the constitution. I'm not religious but it is kind of nice to have someone wishing you well on the decisions you're making!

I'll add a link to the webcast once it's up, but you can read the agenda online HERE. (ETA - here's the webcast.) The meeting progressed like so:

#1. and #2. Attendance and Apologies for Absence.

#3. Declarations of Interest.

#4. and #5. Confirmation of the minutes of council AGM and full council meetings of 14/05/2019.

#6. Updates on Actions.

#7. Receipt of Petitions - N/A.

#8. Public Question Time - N/A.

#9. Announcements from the Leader and / or the Chief Executive.

#10. Award Presentation - Torfaen Youth Service.

#11. Award Presentation - Adult Community Learning.

#12. Appointment of Member to Serve on Foster Panel. The Foster Panel is now meeting on a near weekly basis meaning another team has had to be formed to help with the workload. Cllr Rose Seabourne (Fairwater) was appointed.

#13. Annual Governance Statement. This is essentially a bit of regular housekeeping, ensuring we're in compliance with the Local Governance Framework.

#14. Statement of Accounts 2018/19. Torfaen has built up a reputation over the last few years for getting accounts finalised and audited well ahead of schedule. This year has been no different thanks to the hard work of Dave Lilly and the Financial Services team. The Statement was approved and signed off on by the relevant officers and councillors.

#15. Welsh Language Monitoring Report 2019. Alan Vernon-Jones, the Welsh Language Officer, was given a real grilling over this report! Torfaen is kind of a thorn in the side of the Welsh Language Commissioner - with numbers of Welsh speakers actually decreasing over recent years - and the time, money, and other resources that have to be put into Welsh Language Standards compliance always leads to lots of debate.

Still, it's the law and the expectations only ever increase. Of a workforce (excluding school staff) of 2167 only 30 council employees consider themselves proficient Welsh speakers. When asked if they can write proficiently that number falls to just 15. I mean, I can watch Pobol y Cwm or Sam Tân, but there is no way I could just launch into a conversation in Welsh. I did suggest to the Leader that we might hold part of the March full council meeting in Welsh though, to tie in with St. David's Day and the school Eisteddfodau, and generally show that we are committed to its status as an official language.

#16. Ethics and Standards Annual Report. This was presented by Kathryn Pegington, the independent chair of Torfaen's Ethics and Standards Committee. It was good to hear that the committee dealt with only one complaint against a councillor this year, and had none passed on to them from the Public Services Ombudsman - there was a time when it seemed like it was just a back and fore of complaints between people. The report was noted.

#17. Nominations to Outside Bodies - In-Year Updates. This was just another bit of housekeeping, ensuring the official appointments match up with what people are tasked with doing.

#18. Political Balance - Committee Membership. This report sought to address the lack of committee representation for councillors not affiliated to a political group. (We currently have four - Cllr Liz Haynes, Cllr Robert Kemp, Cllr Alan Slade, Cllr Dave Thomas.) It set out the resignation of a Labour member from each committee to free up space for independent councillors, and committed the council to lobbying Welsh Govt to make their having committee membership an automatic right.

Cllr Kemp asked for an amendment to the motion, requesting a deferment to the July meeting of full council for further consultation with independent councillors. This was ultimately voted down and the original recommendations were approved.

#19. Motions on Notice.

A) Adoption of Unadopted Highways in Torfaen

Cllr Huw Bevan (Llanyrafon East & Ponthir) put forward the motion: 'This Council agrees to commence a programme to start works on the un-adopted streets throughout the Borough to bring them up to Council standard to enable them to become adopted.'

It was a real struggle between heart and mind for me on this one because Pontnewydd is renowned for having the worst unadopted roads in Torfaen. I felt very parochial not supporting the motion because, under the current policy put in place way back in 1984(!!) and reaffirmed in 2001, when funds become available the two worst roads (i.e. those that directly affect me) will be brought up to adoptable standard. But the lack of clarity over how much it would cost - and how many unadopted roads there actually are - made me unwilling to commit to Huw's motion as a policy decision.

If I'd been on the benches I think I'd have proposed having a proper report done into the feasibility so we would know exactly what we were up against, but as Chair you feel like you're there to facilitate the meeting, rather than actively participate...

The final outcome of the motion was c. 13 for and 25 against.

B) Climate Emergency

Cllr Stuart Ashley (Pontnewydd) put forward the motion: 'This Council should consider the need to declare a climate emergency. This consideration should be undertaken by the Resources and Cross Cutting Scrutiny Committee to undertake a full and proper review of whether a declaration is needed, what we are doing now to mitigate a climate emergency, what we need to do and to develop a meaningful, strategic and impactful action plan. On completion of the Scrutiny Review to report back to Cabinet with its findings and recommendations.'

Debate in the council chamber quickly revealed that people felt the motion should go further. Cllr Dave Daniels (Pontnewydd) duly submitted an amendment which Stuart accepted, meaning the motion that actually passed read (from memory!): 'This Council declares a climate emergency. The Cross-Cutting Resource and Business Overview & Scrutiny Committee will undertake a full and proper review of what we are doing now to mitigate a climate emergency, what we need to do and to develop a meaningful, strategic and impactful action plan. On completion of the Scrutiny Review to report back to Cabinet with its findings and recommendations.'

#20. Member Question Time.

There were nine tabled questions today which I think is the most I've ever had in a full council meeting. Given how long this post is already, I'll just link to the question sheet.

#21. Cabinet Decisions for 14/05/2019 and 11/06/2019. There were no queries about these and they were duly noted.

#22. Date and Time of Next Meeting. 10am, 23/07/2019.

If anybody reading wants to come along to a meeting but feels a bit nervous, please feel free to get in touch. I am more than happy to show you around and tell you how it all works. :)

For more like this, please click the image below:
Council Business Explained

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