Some Thoughts After The Review Committee




The District Council’s Review Committee met on Wednesday evening. It’s a bit like a House of Commons Select Committee , it’s there to scrutinise what the council does, and to review things.

The biggest item on Wednesday was to discuss homelessness in our district, and a representative from Rochford Housing Association, plus Cllr Jo Mcpherson (the council’s Portfolio Holder on the subject) were there to answer questions. It was a good meeting where people from 4 political groups worked together. Councillors duly asked lots of questions, though we probably really only scratched the surface, and need to learn more.

What came to mind was that we have , in Jo Mcpherson, a councillor who is really engrossed in her area of responsibility, and wants to communicate with other councillors. We also have councillors who want to learn more. In the ‘good old days’ of the committee system this could happen much more easily. We had a Health and Housing Committee where councillors could learn as they spent years on the committee steadily gaining knowledge….

Another topic was car parking charges. Usage of council car parks has gone up despite the increase in charges last year. Cllr Toby Mountain suggested the council could be a bit more generous now, by for example, stopping charging at 6 pm rather than at 7. Cllr Chris Black backed that and said we could also support traders by adding two more free Saturday mornings to the calendar – the first two Saturdays after Christmas. This would help with the trader’s winter sales. Both these ideas were supported by other members, and we expect some further discussion on this in order to get them agreed by council.

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  • Hi Chris, just read this and thank you. For councillors from ‘any’ party who want to learn more I am always available. I have always said this and a few do take up the offer. There are many issues that can be tackled cross-party as often the issues are of concern to us all. The part-night lighting advisory group was set up to encompass ALL parties to work togehter. I have to say I was somewhat disheartened to hear the independents have stepped away from the advisory group. Their input was valued and as far as I am concerned this subject is still a priority!

  • Here is our Group’s full letter to the Chief Executive of Rochford District Council explaining our issues with the New Member Advisory Groups;

    We have not received a reply as yet from The Chief Executive.

    Date: 2 March 2015

    Amar Dave
    Chief Executive
    Rochford District Council

    Dear Amar

    Member Advisory Groups (MAGS) were formally established at Annual Council in 2014.

    With this went the expectation that these would henceforth be subject to Council Governance as Council Meetings with Officers in attendance.

    At this point as a Group Leader I said that whilst I initially welcomed the formal introduction of MAGS I would be monitoring these in practice.

    As a result of monitoring Councillor Michael Hoy and I have raised, over several months, the concerns of our Group with you formally as Chief Executive.

    Some MAGS have never met or any attempt at contact made. Examples are Planning and Finance. Some MAGS are only comprised of Conservative Members. Flooding is an example.

    You did not feel able to raise these matters with the Leader of The Council as we had requested.

    Since then we have cited the example that a Member assigned to a MAG for Community set up following Annual Council being excluded from the subsequent PNL MAG.

    You have also put to us that you do not accept the validity of our critical review and the need for continuous improvement.

    Since our last meeting I have continued to research the Council Governance that is applied by the Council to MAGS.

    I have shared all of this with you and our Group Members.

    We know that residents wish their Council to be as transparent in all of its proceedings as the Law will permit.

    Our Group believes that for there to be transparent Governance of this Council, as expected by residents, that all meetings, including MAGS, should be recorded in minutes/notes and such made available to all Members and the public unless such matters are exempt by Law when the public should only be excluded.

    You have been copied into correspondence between myself and John Bostock which has determined that this is not the case. And the proceedings of MAGS are also effectively secret from Members who are not on a particular MAG.

    We even have an example of a Portfolio Holder referring to Minutes of a MAG in public but these are not available when a Member requests these.

    Under the circumstances, as a matter of principle, our Group has decided to withdraw our representation on all MAGS, with immediate effect, until the position is reversed.

    As regards Transformation I am personally willing to provide you, as Chief Executive, with any advice you might wish to ask of me.

    I am sure that all Members of our Group would be willing to do likewise.


    Councillor John Mason

  • OK. Thanks Chris for publishing our position on Member Advisory Groups. As I understood from Annual Council these are supposed to be small groups of Members from ALL parties who are requested by the Conservative Cabinet Members to assist them in considering topics in their Portfolios. The Decision Maker remains solely the Portfolio Holder not the Members Advisory Group. Whilst Member Advisory Groups were set up at the beginning of this year from all parties I understand that Cabinet Members can still choose to have an advisory group just from their own party or they can choose to exclude any party from an advisory group. There is no obligation for notes or minutes to be taken or if they are made available to all Members of the Council. There is no transparency.

    Our Group believes that for there to be transparent Governance of this Council, as expected by residents, that all meetings, including advisory groups, should be recorded in minutes/notes and such made available to all Members and the public unless such matters are exempt by Law when the public should only be excluded.

    We also believe that where controversial or difficult topics are considered by the advisory groups then not only should these meetings be published and open to the public then the public should be asked to contribute and advise the Cabinet Member of their concerns and what the Council should do about.

    As to something like Part Night (street lighting) the public do see this as a priority issue so firstly why has the public not been consulted by the Council and what is the official position of the Council on Part Night Lighting? What is Rochford District Council proposing to do?

  • Thank you for posting the full letter John to clarify your groups decision. I cannot comment on other Member advisory groups only the part night lighting group that I chair. As you will see from the minutes of the first meeting ALL members at that first meeting, (including the 2 members from your group) were asked to put forward names of any other members they felt should be invited to join the group. NO ONE put forward any other name. As Chris will verify (as a member himself) I revisited this subject at the next meeting to ensure I gave full opportunity for other names to be put forward. So let’s please be fair here. The minutes will appear on the RDC website, from which you will see the public will be engaged, as per the recommendations from the cross party group.
    I apologise that the webpage with full details of the minutes, reponses from ECC and reporting is not yet up and running. As you know John the restructuring process has impacted on this, causing a delay.
    Part Night Lighting continues to be a very important issue for our residents – so it is with regret, that the PNL MAG will not now have full cross party collaborative working as your group has chosen to step away.

  • so for someone who is not involved in the council….does that mean that these MAGS are now just made up of conservative members or are the liberals, ukip and labour members also involved?

    how many MAGs are there and what do they actually do?

  • James w @ 6

    The scheme established last May in Annual Council was that there would be one Member Advisory Group for each Cabinet Member. These were established so that other Members could assist a Cabinet Member with a topic in their portfolio, There was never an arrangement for each MAG to have full cross party representation because each Member was only allowed to be on one MAG which meant with 9 Cabinet Members and just 3 Lib Dems, 3 Ukip, 4 Green and RDR, 1 Independent Conservative and 1 Labour that was impossible. Almost immediately there was a MAG set up with only Conservative Members and the Flood Forum again was set up with again only Conservative Members. They can do this because it is allowed by the Local Government Act and ignore what was agreed in Council.

    But we have explained to the CEO why we find ourselves unable to continue to work in these arrangements and put this in the letter above. If the arrangements can be revised with real cross party representation on each with appropriate arrangements for minuting each one then we can re-join.

    I hope James w that this has helped but you are probably still as in the dark as to the intentions of the Cabinet as we are !!

    But if the Part Night Lighting Advisory Group has assisted, with our prior representation, the Cabinet Member to make a Decision of what the Council intends to do about the Street Light turn off then why cannot the public be advised right now notwithstanding that there might be a delay with a web site page?

    If the Cabinet can make the overall changes to the Member Advisory Groups that we are seeking then we can participate again in the PNL Advisory Group and others.

    What I can tell you is that the Law allows the Cabinet to do what they like with arrangements for Member Advisory Groups. They can continue with the present unsatisfactory basis of working and we can do nothing about it.

  • I believe that I have now asked Councillor McPherson as Cabinet Member and Portfolio Holder twice to post what her decision is on Part Night (Street) Lighting having discussed this matter with her Members’ Advisory Group in two meetings. (Posts 3 and 8 above.)

    I don’t see any reason why her decision cannot be made known right now to residents on this Lib Dem Web Site notwithstanding that there may be a delay in publishing Minutes and a New Web Page on the Rochford District Council web site.

    So Please……………

    Thank you………………

  • OK. Then Rochford District Council is obviously not going to do anything particularly tangible in response to concerns of residents about Part Night Street Lighting imposed by Essex County Council.

    Would it be acceptable to just tinker with some black spots that were missed by ECC in January 2014?

    Some residents seemed to want the Street Lights restored.

    Should there be a full consultation conducted by the Council with all residents?

    Or should this be an issue for residents to vote on at the Local Elections in May?

    Looking for comments and feedback please.

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