Council Meeting 23rd Jan 2013

Full Council – a little background

Full council meets once every two months or so. At this time of the year it’s a little more often, because it’s the time of setting budgets, but the full council meeting perhaps surprisingly, is not a major part of the councillor’s workload. And for that small mercy I’m thankful, because I find it frustrating and often pointless.

I don’t want to single out Trafford. Most councillors I meet from other towns tell me similar stories. And if you Google ‘Council Chamber’ and click on images, your screen fills with thumbnails of identikit forums facing a throne upon which the mayor presides from Aberystwyth to York. The lack of variety is striking but Trafford is the place I know.

For anyone that’s not witnessed Trafford’s full council (i.e. nearly everyone I’ve ever met), it’s a mixture of mock ceremony and fake heritage going all the way back to the 1974 local government reorganisation. Admittedly the template goes back a lot further than that, as the painting of Cromwell in parliament attests. It’s a bit amateur-dramatics in an endearing sort of way. When we speak we strike heroic or accusing poses. We do have some good speakers on both sides of the chamber but limits of 2 or 3 minutes on speeches make it a difficult discipline to master. It is confrontational and the chamber layout is designed to support that.

Does it allow the main points to be aired?
I’m not sure.

Does it serve the public?
Very doubtful.

Should it change?
Most certainly.

Will it change?
Not in the next hundred years!

I thought it was interesting a few years back just as I was elected in 2006 that the Conservatives had such a reaction to their proposal to move the town hall to a new site apparently/allegedly at no cost. There was a real public outcry. The familiar town hall on Talbot Road became a listed building in answer to the threat and battle lines were drawn. However, there was almost no discussion about what 21st century democracy would look like. There was very little debate about whether a new building was an opportunity to reframe the relationship with voters? Wherever we had a town hall we were going to get a council chamber on the lines of what had preceded it and that exists in every other town hall in this country. It seems people like the tradition.

I think you could label me an iconoclast.

Anyway, back to last night

Dave Acton spoke very well on the need to maintain a fire service for the whole of Greater Manchester. And Laurence Walsh spoke powerfully on the threat to care standards in contracts to private providers if we didn’t build into those contracts a commitment to good employment practices such as the living wage.

In terms of decisions – Council adopted the Council Tax support scheme it has designed to replace the Council Tax Benefit that the Tory Government has abolished. It’s yet another cut affecting the poorest. I hate the idea of devolving benefit design to local authorities. It is a waste of resources to all be redesigning benefits at the same time plus it creates anomalies. This should have stayed with central government.

It’s striking that in this same week the leader of Trafford Council is having to plead with ministers on behalf of all of Greater Manchester for an extra High Speed Rail station at the airport. The Government is delegating things like benefits to councils but when it comes to stations on a strategic line, we have to go begging. The Government is getting so much wrong it’s causing real hardship and delaying the recovery.

Mike Cordingley

These are my views – feel free to comment





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