Scarborough, 26 June 2017
Just as we had all expected, today’s extraordinary meeting to vote on a motion of no confidence in the Leader and Cabinet of Scarborough Borough Council turned out to be a complete waste of everyone’s time and your Council Tax money. Not surprisingly, given that the Leader and Cabinet had obtained dispensations to vote on their own fate, the motion was lost. But not until we had experienced more shenanigans and grandstanding by members with too high an opinion of themselves.
The morning’s affairs started before a surprisingly sparsely attended public gallery with the Mayor announcing that this was “a meeting of the council held in public, not a public meeting”, going on to warn the public to be good children and not to interrupt. We then came to declarations of interest. As expected, all eight members of cabinet (and Cllr. Mrs Bastiman) declared an interest, but said that they had obtained a dispensation to participate in the meeting. The discussion then rambled on as to whether this was right, and whether it meant that they could also vote. Cllr Cross then launched into his prepared speech proposing the motion, only to be stopped first by applause from the gallery, and the Mayor threatening to clear the gallery should such interruptions recur, and then by the Mayor pointing out that Cllr Cross’s eagerness had got the better of him, and that it was not yet his turn to speak.
Finally, we got underway with the debate. There was no real attempt to propose or second the motion, which left the field open for the Leader to claim that the true vote of confidence was that lost by Cllr Cross and his fellow UKIP county councillors across the country, all but one of whom had lost their seat. Then it got unpleasant. To be frank, I stopped listening to the slanging match to-ing and fro-ing across the chamber. This would not be helping the good governance of the borough, or looking after my constituents. I had been looking forward to a debate about openness, communication and democracy. Not this tit-for-tattery.
Councillor Barnett got up and made just that point “When I did my training as a councillor after being elected in 2015,” he confided “I was told that the most important thing I could do was represent the people of my ward…” He was not allowed to carry on, as the applause from the gallery set off the Mayor’s itchy trigger finger. This was just what he needed to switch off the light shining on the Leader and Cabinet’s lack of openness and transparency. “Clear the gallery!” came the stentorian command. Of course, nothing of the sort happened.
Twenty minutes or more of hanging around while North Yorkshire’s finest were called in. It appears that they (all five(!) of them) wisely didn’t want to touch this one with a barge-pole.
Finally the Mayor called us back and announced that we would go straight to a vote. To put a fig-leaf of democracy on this extraordinarily dictatorial chairing of the meeting, former leader Cllr Fox called that the motion be put to a vote immediately as he thought it unfair “to enter a battle of wits with an unarmed man.”
As ever, the council split on party lines and the motion was lost.
The champions of openness and free speech had managed to shut down the debate by interrupting the meeting. Chaired appallingly badly by the new Mayor. He was partial, did not know the rules (specifically, regarding the public’s right to make its own recordings) and was so eager to shut down the debate that he tried to close the meeting before we had voted on the motion.
Opposition members were ready to make reasoned, sensible arguments about why the public might lack confidence in the Leader and Cabinet. Filey and Whitby town councils both have grievances about how their towns are treated by SBC. The leader of the Labour group and chair of Overview and Scrutiny would have had plenty to say on the governance of the council. But none of these reasonable arguments could be heard.
How much has this vanity project of UKIP’s, a blatant piece of electioneering for elections that UKIP has already lost, cost you the taxpayer? I think we should be told.