Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The minuets were singed by the chair

Back in my Labour Party days I attended far too many boring party meetings for little or no purpose and at times our only release from the tedium was to make fun at a rather hapless secretary of the Northampton District Labour Party whose typed minutes of the meetings always contained priceless errors, changing the whole context of what we had been discussing in the previous month.

For instance I can recall written testament to debates on "The state of the County's toads" (roads) proposals for reductions in "Symmetry charges" (Cemetery) and the "Pole Tax" (Poll) not to mention the number of local and general "erection" (election) campaigns we considered.

But my all time favourite for its completeness as a sentence and for its percieved imagery was when we noted that "The minuets were singed by the chair" We did however leave most of these errors intact, you see we couldn't really challenge them, because to do anything other than bite our hands in concealed merriment would have meant upsetting the secretary and then someone else having to take on the job. But spelling errors aside they were always a true reflection of the events that actually occurred at the meeting. And politicians from all parties and none, sad as we all are, cannot survive without minutes, it somehow gives reason and purpose for the ridiculous amounts of our time that we spend away from our families locked away in dark rooms being nasty to each other.

Therefore imagine my disquiet last night at this months Full Council meeting when amendments to the minutes were proposed to not just alter the words in the minute but to alter the whole course of events! below in my posting "Silence is Liberal Yellow, Not Golden"


I have cut and pasted the recorded minutes from Decembers Council meeting. This is not my version of events but simply those taken down by the minute clerk at the time and recorded in his own handwriting in the minute book as they occurred and then afterwards posted on the Councils website.

But it seems as if one of our fragile Liberal Democrat Portfolio Holders, Cllr Paul Varnsverry was disturbed by these truths and so decided to challenge the minutes with his own version of events. Apparently we now are led to believe that twice during the period in which I questioned him on the Councils support for our Credit Unions and on the cost of the One Stop Shop that he intervened and that the Mayor then ruled that because the title of the portfolio holder was wrong on the written question that the question was out of order and had no need of answer? Now I am not precious about such matters, its hardly a point of major importance, he never answered the questions anyway, but hang on a damn minuet I hear you fry, if a false minute can be recorded on this occasion, then what is stop anyone in the future becoming equally challenged by the truth?

So I intervened, calmly and politely, informing the Mayor that the published and hand written minutes do not support this new version of events, and that it indeed looked bad on the Mayor himself if we were to record events that suggest he made rulings on challenges which simply did not happen. I also asked the Chief Executive for his view of what had occurred, but unfortunately (or fortunately for him) he could not recall what had occurred at last months meeting.

I also helpfully pointed out that the Cllr had indeed challenged me on his correct title later on in the meeting during his Portfolio Holders presentation but that his suggested change was not a correct minute of the nights events. Cllr Varnsverry is the "Portfolio Holder for Communities" which includes a whole host of responsibilities, It is a bit like when I in the early 90's when I used to chair the "Environment Services" Committee but would get letters addressed to me as "The Chair of Leisure" or "The Chair of Parks" Which is why the Committee clerks always use the words "The relevant portfolio holder" I therefore asked in order for their not to be any disagreement on the night that the minutes not be signed as a correct record until such time as we could check the written record and agree between us what had taken place.

No such luck, instead we proceeded to vote on the erroneous change to the minutes (despite most of the council not having the proposed amendment in front of them).The Conservative and Labour Groups as a show of their true fire and determination as opposition party's decided that the matter was beneath them and thus chose to sit on their hands and abstain leaving the three Independent members and Cllr Colin Lill, a brave and honest local Tory to vote against the amendment made making our 4 votes count against the 19 Liberal Democrat sheep on the opposite side of the chamber who as a result got their way and changed the official version of the Councils minute to suit themselves.

Members of the Public, who had been at last months meeting, looked on in puzzlement, they remember very well what had happened previously, and some of them were very keen after the meeting to tell me so. It was all very very unsettling. In the scale of things though,as I say above it is all very trivial, but on the other hand a Council minute is a Council minute and if it can be changed at will by the ruling administration once, then why not again? And when in a 100 years time people look at the record of our meetings will they then have in front of them a record of what really happened? or simply a changed minute of what some people wanted to have occurred?

It was all a new low for me, Local politics is foremost about serving local people, our debates in the chamber should be focused solely on that outcome, but the manner in which Northampton Borough Council is now running itself makes that impossible, we have pointless debates about very trivial issues whilst the real decisions are made by officers and the administration behind closed doors, and we then wonder why we are held in such low regard by our electorate. Full Council meetings should be about lively and challenging debate on how we are best serving that electorate and whether we win or lose those debates, we should all expect that the minutes of our deliberations are a true record.

Sadly with this Council, they are not.

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Thank you for visiting "tonyclarkegreenparty" The views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They are made by me personally in my own capacity as free citizen and not as representative of any outside body or council that I may serve on or be employed by. However if anyone is offended by any of these comments or feels that they should be corrected then please contact me in the first instance at tony.clarke@email.com and I will do my best to consider your comments and correct any errors.


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