Wednesday, 7 October 2009

I Yield............. and I resign......................but not just yet.......................

So its official that Tony Woods has now fallen on his sword after such a long and damaging episode in the body politic which is both Northampton Borough Council and the Northampton Liberal Democrats.

But any relief at his finally seeing the damage he has caused to their collective reputations was immediately turned into disbelief tonight when Cllrs discovered from the Councils Press Release that even his resignation has within it its own clauses and conditions.

It seems as if Tony's decision is to resign.........................but on his own terms.........................and when he is ready to do so !!!

I guess as an engineer he needs to examine his resignation from all possible angles before postulating on who should succeed him and when.

The press release tells us that his resignation will not be immediate (so much for the King is dead, long live the King) but instead will have effect from the next Council meeting at the end of October.

It also tells us that he has decided (not his group) that he will still be leader when the Cabinet meets next Wednesday in order to ensure that important matters before the meeting are dealt with properly.

In other words any successor couldn't possibly be up to the task of stepping into his shoes and chairing an important cabinet meeting (that will boost the public confidence in his successor) and as such he will lead his way out of the back door on his own terms?

What does this say about the ability of his the current Deputy Leader of the Council and likely candidate for the top job Cllr Brian Hoare? That he is not up to the task of chairing next weeks cabinet? And what message does it send to the rest of his group who may be looking to succeed him? That they two are second best?

But more importantly what message does it send to the public who believe that a resignation is a resignation full stop?

I wonder what would our fan base at the football club say if after we we had sacked Stuart Gray a few weeks ago that we then announced that he would remain in charge for the next two games because they were far too important for any new manager to take charge for?

And what does the new leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, once chosen do until such time as "The Leader" (this time in English rather than Italian) postulates that it is his time to go

Tony Woods seems to have invented a new political end game of snatching turmoil out of the hands of defeat.

Liberal Democrat Councillors must be wondering where will it all end..............................................

The public will thinking a whole lot worse.

I wish I had just moved that Bl**dy Car


News reaches me from yesterday standards board hearing that the Potentate Tony Woods was found guilty on two counts of breaching the Councils Code of Conduct.

Not news in itself as most of us who followed the story from the start knew he was guilty from day one. In fact I often wondered why in the face of such irrefutable evidence why TW didn't just come clean, get his apology in early and make a suitable donation to the Mayors charity to cover any cost or advantage assumed.

But as I alluded to previously the issue was never about the car, it was always about attitude, and whether or not Tony had it in him to either accept or admit his guilt or apologise not for an error of judgment but for the act in itself.

In many ways the standards board could not have been more severe with him yesterday, many will think he is lucky not to have been suspended outright, but Tony would have welcomed that as it would have gave him the right to appeal to a higher body and prolong the pain further. But to order him to write and apologise and to dictate to him the words he will use in the letter was the very worst punishment you could ever dish out to someone totally unwilling to accept the part they themselves played in this whole sorry affair.

I am told he spent the whole day blaming everyone but himself? John Dickie got an earful, as did the Chronicle and Echo, as did members of the Standards Board at the end. Although the act of loudly clicking a ballpoint pen on and off in the face of the chair whilst she is trying to read the judgement seems bizarre behaviour in the extreme.

But on top of all this I understand I too got a walk on part. Woodsie it seems was very upset by my blog entry of August 19th

where I shared with readers the Market Traders reference to TW as Il Duc'e and my own observations as to the pictorial likenesses between the two. But my fellow independent Fitzy must take the original credit for the character observation which was first seen in his blog in January when he wrote:

"Portly Woods sauntered to and fro like a latter-day Benito Mussolini, gesturing behind his own back as he spoke, which is a particularly interesting habit if you've ever studied body language and psychology."

What this all has to do with him abandoning his car is difficult to fathom? but I was told that TW is now considering reporting me to the Standards Board or even suing me for daring to publish my view.

Well Tony if that's your answer, then bring it on, I will add it to the collection of knives regularly pulled from my back in the shape of pointless references to the Standards board for varied trivial reasons, and also in the shape of Councillors who won't sit next to me in the chamber and draw up secret pacts not to talk to me or work with me!

Why you as Leader of the Council, or for that matter any other group of Councillors on the Borough Council are so worried about one independent Councillor is beyond me. But I thank you all for the compliment.

But if we do fall out over my previous posting (let alone this one) then all I will say is that I sincerely wish that you had spent more time reading the advice I gave within the post and in the Council Chamber rather than concentrating on what was meant as nothing but humour.

If it helps jog your memory , I said to you at full council earlier this year that

"It's never the big things that bring administrations and Leaders down, it is often the smallest sometimes trivial events such as leaving your untaxed car in the Council car park for months which will get you in the end."

And in my post of August 19th I commented on your case by saying that:

"It is the air of arrogance and indifference when questioned that condemns him, not his actions alone" after the reports from yesterdays hearing I stand by this completely."

I also offered the following advice:

"Sometimes saying Sorry at the outset not at the end is a far better policy. Sometimes remembering that whatever the title says on your post that you are no more important now than you were first achieved office and supposed greatness is also very good practice."

"It's humility, and genuine remorse that will save you Tony not belittling your detractors and undervaluing their opinion."

I honestly feel that you should have heeded this advice far earlier and before you were forced to do so. Imagine if you will, standing up in the chamber in January and saying:

"Mr Mayor, this was an error on my part, I should have moved the car earlier, I apologise to the whole council for not doing so I have now moved the vehicle and I will make a donation to the Mayors charity by way of recompense for any cost incurred or privilege wrongly taken"

Hindsight I know is always easy, but I believe you had plenty of time before then to come up with a better defense than denial and obstinacy.

The other part of my advice in my blog of August 19th was that:

"The local standards board committee will of course have the final say, and that's how it should be, but the damage to his reputation and the Lib Dem group on the Council not to mention his standing within his own group are probably damaged far beyond the level they need to be."

The standards board have now had their say, nothing to do with me, or your pictorial likeness to Il Duce, and I understand that the Lib Dem group will do likewise on Friday.

No one Councillor of the forty seven serving NBC is better than any other, not one of us should be treated or be expected to be treated any differently either, all of us are in control of our own actions, and each of us should learn that disrespect for each other outside of the normal political knock about and disrespect for our office will comes with an expected ricochet when fired out into the public arena.

So write the letter, accept that you were wrong and move on, one thing on which we will both agree on is that at present the council has far more important things to worry itself about and spend its time and energy on than your 12 year old astra.

Whether you are able to lead that challenge is now in the hands of your own members.

But please, please stop blaming me and everyone else for your own actions and ommisions.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Unity and Unitary are the only saviours for local government

The combined energies of our local Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Conservative Councillors at both the Guildhall and at County Hall are being consumed almost entirely by trying to convince an ever shrinking public interest that the other two Party's are both unfit to govern and that only they alone can save us all from the very deep trouble we find ourselves in.

Meanwhile both the Tory County and Lib Dem Borough administrations continue to blame the Labour Party for the mess both Councils are now in despite the red flags coming down at the Town Hall in 2003 and at County Hall in 2005. All normal knock about stuff in the body politic I hear people say? But Northampton at present can't afford such luxury

Of course the outdated and remote two tier local government system that we continue to suffer under, allows this to happen often in a complete mirror reversed image. In other words at the Town Hall the local Tories berate the hapless Lib Dem's for their failures in local office often within hours of them having crossed the road and changed roles from where a Lib Dem opposition at County Hall has distributed the blame onto the ruling Conservative Party for sometimes the very same issues.

As an example, a couple of weeks ago I challenged Richard Church (Lib Dem) at the Town Hall over the state of the newly laid York Stone paving slabs in Gold Street which are now covered in grease and chewing gum because no one bothered to seal the freshly laid slabs. Richard (having waxed lyrical in his portfolio holders report as to the schemes success) told me it was nothing to do with the Borough Council and it was the County Council who had let the contract. Surprise Surprise when I tackled Jim Harker (Tory) last Thursday at a County Council meeting he defelected the blame and reminded me that the work was a partnership between NCC, NBC and WNDC. Since I have been informed privately that the County Council tried to tell the Borough Council officers that York Stone was the wrong choice but they just wouldn't listen.

All trivial stuff really but the same pandemic of BSE (Blame Someone Else) decease is evident on much more important issues, such as the drawing up a Joint Core Strategy (strategic plan) between themselves collectively before consulting on it with themselves and all then saying what an appalling hash they have all made of it! Talk about politicians having a penchanc'e for self flagellation!

So we now unbelievably have a strategic plan proposed by the West Northamptonshire Joint Planning Unit (NBC, NCC, SNC and DDC) which has been rejected fully by both SNC and NCC with NBC and DDC both choosing to be self critical without having the full courage of their conviction to reject it outright.

So who in all of this has got it right about who is wrong? Well all of them really, you see all have failed to govern and all have seemingly contributed in their own special ways to the state our Town and County are now in. Of course John Prescott must also shoulder some of the blame as the Local Government Act 2000 which brought in "Cabinet" style local government has probably damaged our democracy even more than the local politicians who have administered it.

I must also share part of the responsibility having voted for thesame act in Parliament as an MP but little did we know then that the egotistic and the power hungry would turn an opportunity to decentralise the decision making process into an excuse to concentrate all power and decision making at the centre and within the executive without proper scrutiny.

Ruling administrations of all colours across the whole country have simply grabbed power for themselves whilst paying lip service to any proper scrutiny and the need to keep the whole council engaged. Chief Executives are equally guilty of hoarding decision making powers and ever delegating more and more decisions to their chief officer colleagues, leaving many Councillors both in opposition and within the ruling party (but outside the cabinet) wondering why they bothered to stand for council in the first place.

But for Northampton and indeed the County to recover and strengthen its democratic accountability we need all of the parties to find common ground over the urgent need to reorder our local governance. We need Northampton to be in control of it's destiny again through the establishment of a Unitary (one tier) council based on its own agreed boundary. Other Unitary authorities for either the remaining County or perhaps more plausible North Northamptonshire and South Northamptionshire also need establishing.

But we also need to act quickly, collectively and locally and fight for our right to govern now before an even worse fate is imposed down on us from on high. Having suffered for 5 years from the quangocratic ramblings of West Northamptonshire Development Corporation do we really want to risk any new government whatever its colour imposing on us a West Northamptonshire Unitary Council?

Some will say we need to prove our competence to govern first before we can demand any new structure, I say that it is our very structure which prevents us from delivering that competence in the first place. Where else in the UK can we find a population of 200,000 plus people unable to vote for one council to govern and deliver all of its services? Where else in the UK will we find bi annual elections electing different Councillors and political administrations to different councils who then spend most of their time opposing each other and most of their tenure wasting their energy on party politics instead of providing public service.

Perhaps what we really need is less party politics altogether? and an electorate willing to elect more Independents who will put the needs of the town before the needs of their party. Perhaps we also need a few brave souls from within the party's to have the courage and foresight to say the Party is over and become Independent's themselves?

We need somehow to find common ground and purpose, to achieve unity in Local Government to achieve Unitary Local Government and if the party system can't deliver that or prefers to continue with its backbiting and blame agendas then they should stand aside.



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