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Facilitators Report Synopsis by Colin Tearle

Contributed by editor on Jan 27, 2004 - 02:17 AM

FACILITATORS REPORT SYNOPSIS

By Colin Tearle

The report to Shepway District Council by Mr.Game (the Facilitator appointed in Feb. 2003)  on Political Management Arrangements and Member/Officer Relationships, has confirmed the long held views by some current and ex-councillors that the Chief Executive and his Senior Offices thought that the Local Govt.Act 2000 which reformed the way in which Local Authorities were supposed to be run, in the main did not apply to them, or if it did, seek to get Councillors to vote away their new found powers and rights in the new SDC Constitution.

There is in this report much criticism of the way the senior officers sought to run and organise the Council and its Councillors, especially in the areas of:

1.The Cabinet.

2.The roles of Officers.

3.Council policy and its implementation.

4.The Overview and Scrutiny Committees.

5.The new Ethical Framework and Standards Committee.

6.The new proposed Councillor/Officer Protocol.

7.The training of Councillors and Officers in their new roles.

Because of this, in Mr.Game`s view, their were the ingredients in short, for an accident waiting to happen.

 

1] THE CABINET

The way in which the Cabinet members played no part in official council reports emanating from their Departments

[They were not consulted or did not play any part in their construction], before they, the Cabinet and the Council were presented with a `fait-accomplait`, at the same time as it went into the public domain.

Accompanied with the emergence of a strong Cabinet system, the senior council officers sought to draw a distinction between themselves and the Cabinet by calling themselves the Professional Executive and the Cabinet the Political Executive, as if the Political Executive was somehow second class. In fact there is o­nly o­ne Executive at Shepway, the Cabinet.

 

2] THE ROLES OF OFFICERS

The assumption was by the senior officers was that their role would not change, and in that they failed to recognise:

a] The empowerment of Cabinet Members.

b] The opportunities for individual decision making by Cabinet Councillors.

c] The emergence of a cadre of full-time and better remunerated Councillors.

d] The absence of political balance rules in the Cabinet.

e] The nature of the Overview and Scrutiny function.

This was because they [The Officers] were familiar with only o­ne way of dealing with matters,-The Right Way. A way only known to them and a few well established Councillors.

Mr.Game encapsulates this by saying Some [officers at Shepway] are still stepped in the canteen culture which says that if o­nly Councillors would go away, the Officers could get o­n with some real work`, and further, some Officers believe that o­nly they have the necessary skills, knowledge and awareness of community concerns to be able unilaterally to implement council policy. Finally he says about the SDC staff and organisational reviews and restructuring in recent years, `They would not appear to have been primarily attempts to respond to the new demands of Executive government [at Shepway], or indeed to the needs or interests of Councillors generally`.

3] POLICY AND ITS IMPLEMENTATION

In Shepway Officer speak, Councillors determine strategy, operations are the concerns of Officers`. The implication sometimes made by the Chief Executive, that their is no, or virtually no grey area.

According to Mr.Game this concept is fundamentally wrong, because it is o­nly Councillors who are elect orally accountable, and can pay the terminal price of losing their seats through an unsuccessfully implemented policy. So therefore it is appropriate for Councillors to oversee the implementation of policy. He says, Councillors are concerned not merely with policy, but how policy is carried out, for in implementation policy succeeds or fails. Policy is made and re-made in implementation.

No better examples of this in the recent past were when individual Cabinet members and the Cabinet realised just before the last District Council Elections that their policies o­n the Tourist Information Centre at Folkestone and the Leas Lift had fundamentally changed in its implementation.

4) OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY

 Mr.Game states that their are six preconditions to be met if back-bench councillors are to be able to conduct this process effectively, and throughout much of the duration of the last four years it would be difficult to claim that any of these six preconditions were being satisfactorily met.

Its role is to:

a] Hold the Cabinet to account.

b] Hold Officers to account for decisions taken under delegated powers.eg.When the lead Councillors o­n the Public Accounts Committee wrote a report, which blamed Officers for the loss of £520,000.

c] In the development of future policy.

As a result of this, its full potential has never been realised. Amongst the six preconditions are Effective Direct Officer Support, an issue which was bitterly contested by the Chief Executive for two years, along with the issue of the committee's rights to call the Officers they want to interview as witnesses, and not the Officers the Chief-Executive thought were the most appropriate`.

 

5) THE NEW ETHICAL FRAMEWORK AND STANDARDS COMMITTEE

Here we have reserved the biggest criticism of council officers, and by implication the Solicitor and Monitoring Officer to the Council. He says, `Shepway has referred probably more than its share of complaints against Councillors to the Standards Board for England in the past year. Most of these cases summaries do not appear o­n their web site because they were adjudged to be either:

CATEGORY A - No case to answer

                   OR

CATEGORY B - The evidence is of such little significance as to be not worth perusing and testing legally.

<Mr.Game goes onto say in his opinion, It is relevant to raise certain aspects of the way in which the cases were handled and the detrimental impact they had o­n Councillor/Officer relations and just importantly of the image of the Council.

Public perception was that the SBE o­nly dealt with the most extreme cases of seriousness and depravity and that these Councillors must therefore be guilty of something unspeakably shameful and or corrupt.

They would not realise that every case had to go to the SBE.

In fact approximately 5100 cases have been referred, of which aprox.105 resulted in suspension or disqualification, the rest were either Cat A or B. This is why some Officials at the SBE will tell you that in their opinion many cases arise by people wishing to settle scores.

Mr.Game is also scathing in the way in which the local Standards Board has been marginalised by:

a] No schedule of meetings.

b] No allocated budget.

c] In some instances its members were left to learn from the local media matters that should have been its concern.

 

6) THE NEW COUNCILLOR/OFFICER PROTOCOL

Again there is criticism by Mr.Game. He says of the new proposed protocol, What follows seems in places to be little more cognisant of the pressures facing Officers, than those of Councillors, and perhaps more concerned with the setting out the rights and protecting the positions of Officers than with identifying the rights and entitlement of Councillors`.

He goes o­nto say, It is important to reflect in these proposals it is the Councillors who are elected democratically. It is their policies end decisions which people vote for [not those of the staff].

The draft of this new protocol along with other policies being pursued by the Chief Executive is in effect a model for an Officer run Local Authority. Is it any wonder that with this report o­n top of two bad Best Value reviews by Govt.Inspectors, Senior Officers at SDC have serious concerns about the forthcoming Comprehensive Performance Assessment by the Govt.latter this year.

 

7) TRAINING OF COUNCILLORS AND OFFICERS FOR THEIR NEW ROLE.

The report makes several recommendations, such as joint Councillor/Officer training sessions, not as at present.

Leaving us with this passing shot Mr.Game says, In Shepway, though there were undoubtedly those who recognised the strong desirability for such training and development, none of any significance took place, with the foreseeable consequence that relationships were confused inconsistent, and in some instances, effectively broke down.

In effect what Mr.Game has done is to identify the problems at Shepway and how to cure them.


Would you support the death penalty?

Contributed by webmaster on Jan 26, 2004 - 12:31 PM

WOULD YOU SUPPORT THE DEATH PENALTY? 


Dear Ed

Would readers ask, when the date of the next General Election is announced, prospective MPs if they would support a motion in the House of Commons for the return of the death penalty for murder providing the verdict is 100% safe.

I feel at present there is no deterrent.


Of course there may be a negative reply but at least voters would know the stance of candidates. I am hoping to collate replies.

Thank you


James Wood


9 Fairview Drive
Bayston Hill
Shrewsbury
tel 01743 872611

<A class=moz-txt-link-rfc2396E href="mailto:jamesw720@aol.com\">mailto:jamesw720@aol.com
<A class=moz-txt-link-abbreviated href="mailto:.jamesw720@aol.com">jamesw720@aol.com


Folkestone Camera Club meeting 19 January 2004

Contributed by editor on Jan 26, 2004 - 11:54 AM

21st January 2004

FOLKESTONE CAMERA CLUB

On Monday 19th January, we had our 3rd Slide competition of the season which was judged by Mr Kevin Harvey, a member of St. Mary’s Bay Camera Club and a regular visitor to our club, a very experienced photographer, who gave us a very informative evening with his hints on how we could improve our photography and his results (out of 20) are:-

Monochrome:- 20 Points Bob Brisley ‘Millenium Bridge’

(10 entries) 19 Points Betty Boreham ‘Artist at Duxford’

Novice:- 20 Points Bill Grudgings ‘Maligne Lake’

(2 entries) 19 Points Bill Grudgings ‘Stone Circle’

Intermediate:- 20 Points Fay Meek ‘Towards Snowdonia’

(12 entries) 19 Points Charles White ‘Stalheim Valley, Norway’

Advanced:- 20 Points Brian Collins ‘Rushing By’

(18 entries) 19 Points Betty Boreham ‘Up to the Hilt’

19 Points Vic Fowler ‘Candle Rose’

Medium Format:- 20 Points Bryan Mewse ‘La Penseuse

(4 entries) 16 Points Bryan Mewse ‘No Last Chances’

16 Points Vic Fowler ‘Togetherness’

On 26th January we shall be viewing the London Salon National Exhibition 2003 This recorded exhibition is a firm favourite of our members, excellent slides on a variety of subjects, by photographers all over the U.K. The following week, the 2nd February, will be Robert Canis ARPS showing ‘Bobs’ Best of Year’ which will be a very good evening, followed on the 4th February by our monthly Practical Evening where members can practice with the clubs studio lighting. Our 4th Print Competition of the season will be held the following week on the 9th February.

Visit our website at www.folkestonecameraclub.co.uk .

Meetings are held at the United Reform Community Hall, Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone on Mondays at 7.45pm. New members are always welcome, if interested please phone Mrs Jenny Barraclough (Secretary) 01303 245399 or e mail: barraclough@jenny-frank.fsnet.co.uk


KCC Council Tax rise sets target for low Shepway increase

Contributed by editor on Jan 26, 2004 - 08:09 AM

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KCC COUNCIL TAX INCREASE SETS TARGET FOR LOW SHEPWAY RISE

 

The county council's budget, unveiled today, will mean an average increase of 5.2%.

It seeks to strike the right balance of shifting money into front-line services for the public by cutting overheads and bureaucracy



The drive to reduce administration costs across the authority continues and significant additional jobs will go on top of the 300 announced last year.



The net result is a council tax increase of 5.2% for Kent residents. Last year Kent had the lowest increase of all its South East County Council neighbours. The 5.2% is lower than the Chancellor of the Exchequer's prediction in his pre-budget report of Council Tax yield of 7.3% nationally.



Council Leader Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said: The budget scenario this year was particularly difficult. In December the Audit Commission confirmed the continuing redistribution of Government funding away from the South East was causing lower Council Tax rises in the Midlands and North and higher in the South East. In the face of this and other pressures like national public sector inflation running at a totally unacceptable 8.7%, we have delivered a 5.2% Council Tax increase that will provide real investment in key front-line services. This has been achieved by our continual drive to cut bureaucracy and waste.

We are determined to make the very best use of Kent Council Tax payers' money. This is not easy and we believe we have struck the right balance with further cuts in administration and overheads, whilst still improving services."

More than £408m will be ploughed into improving school buildings over the next three years and an additional £121m goes into teaching and support for schools over the same period. These sums include increased Government grant but also major extra funding invested by the county council.

On the capital programme front, in addition to the £408m for the new school building programme, there is £21m for modernising public libraries," said Sir Sandy.

Following the highly successful lobbying of the Government by Kent head teachers and governors, there is also an extra £30m for schools.

Social Services receive a major increase of £23m because of the increasing number of elderly in our population and rising demand for services relating to mental health and children in care.

Kent's increasing traffic levels mean £20m goes into road resurfacing and repair."

Sir Sandy added: I would like to pay a real tribute to our staff who have the difficult job of implementing savings, whilst working hard to deliver better services. They have played a vital role in achieving and maintaining Kent's top 'excellent' rating from the Audit Commission for the way the county council provides public services and manages the budget.

Our financial plans now range over three years to enable us to drive down costs even further and keep council tax increases as low as possible. I will, however, also not lose any opportunity to express to Government Ministers our concern about the way Kent has lost £56m of grant to other parts of the country."


Missing schoolgirls found in Folkestone

Contributed by webmaster on Jan 25, 2004 - 01:01 PM

MISSING SCHOOLGIRLS FOUND IN FOLKESTONE

Police have found two schoolgirls who went missing from their north London homes and say that "both appear safe and well".

Denise Robotham, 12, and Sinead Ormand, 13, had not been seen since they left their north London homes o­n Friday afternoon.

Scotland Yard said the pair were found last night at a campsite in Folkestone, Kent, and were taken to a nearby hospital where Sinead was being kept in overnight for observation. Denise has been discharged.

The girls were thought to have disappeared o­n a "teenage adventure" to meet someone they met o­n the Internet.

They left their homes with £100, some spare clothes and a tent and were initially thought to be heading to Norfolk. Police believe they had been planning the trip for some time.

With heavy snow and freezing temperatures forecast to hit Britain over the next few days, police were growing increasingly worried for their safety.

But the pair were recognised by an ambulance crew called to a campsite in Folkestone to treat two young girls who were feeling ill.

Yesterday afternoon police said they had identified three 14-year-old boys from Norfolk who admitted contact with the girls via the Internet over the past few weeks.

Police said they believe the girls had offered to come to see them, but the boys declined and insisted the girls had never been to their homes.




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Footpaths helpline launched

Contributed by webmaster on Jan 25, 2004 - 11:33 AM

<FONT face=Arial><FONT size=2><FONT color=black>FOOTPATHS HELPLINE LAUNCHED

A dedicated helpline for walkers using some of Kent's 4,200 miles of public paths has gone live.

Callers to the Kent County Council line can report problems o­n public rights of way or can pose questions about the footpaths network.

A council spokesman said: "This new helpline will speed up the process of dealing with problems."


Coast protection scheme under scrutiny

Contributed by editor on Jan 23, 2004 - 08:27 AM

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COAST PROTECTION SCHEME UNDER SCRUTINY

More than 100 Sandgate residents took a closer look at coast defence plans when they attended a public meeting on Wednesday.

The meeting, hosted by the Sandgate Society, brought together Shepway Council engineers and representatives from Van Oord, the marine and civil engineering contractor which will be carrying out the Defra-funded coast protection work.



Simon Herrington, Shepway Council’s Engineering Manager, said the Hythe to Folkestone Harbour Coast Protection Scheme was designed to protect 2,200 homes from flooding and 700 homes from coastal erosion.

Work would involve building a large rock headland and three rock groynes on the foreshore below the Folkestone Coastal Park.

A further rock groyne is proposed at Marine Parade, Hythe. This work - together with 800,000 tonnes of shingle to ‘top-up’ the existing beaches - will improve protection against flooding and erosion for the next 50 years.

Rock will be brought ashore by barge and the shingle will be pumped from a dredger through pipes laid on the seabed.

Improvements are also proposed to the existing concrete seawalls at Sandgate and Hythe together with 380 metres of new seawall at Riviera Beach, Folkestone.

The scheme is due to start in March with work in Sandgate being carried out during August and September.

Issues raised at the 140-strong meeting included timing of the work, access to the beach while work was carried out, the height of the Sandgate sea wall, disturbance and loss of car parking.

Mr Herrington explained that the work could not easily be carried out in winter because of the risks posed by bad weather and rough seas. Access to the beach would be restricted in stages but plenty of beach would remain available to local residents and visitors.

The height of the wall along Sandgate Esplanade had to be raised in parts to provide more protection to homes from ‘over topping’ by rough seas.

He said he understood concerns about loss of parking at the Castle Road car park and said the council would try to reduce any inconvenience.

Ian Young, Van Oord’s site works manager, said some disturbance to residents was inevitable but the company would always try and keep this to a minimum. Work would carry on around the clock with the delivery of rocks coinciding with high tide times.

“My mobile phone will be switched on 24 hours a day and I will take calls from anyone who is having problems,� said Ian.

Two more public meetings are being held about the coast protection scheme at Hythe Town Hall on Tuesday 3 February and at the United Reformed Church Hall, Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone on Thursday 5 February. Both meetings start at 6.30pm


Blaze ship awaiting repairs

Contributed by editor on Jan 23, 2004 - 08:20 AM

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BLAZE SHIP AWAITING REPAIRS

A cargo ship is awaiting repairs following a fire which sparked a full-scale emergency off the coast of Dover.

The 16,000-tonne Sea Riss was carrying steel to Northfleet when the fire broke out in one of its funnels.



Nine firefighters were winched on board the Dutch-registered craft in an operation involving the Royal Navy, the RAF and Kent Fire Brigade


Drivers reject Eurostar strikes

Contributed by editor on Jan 23, 2004 - 08:18 AM

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DRIVERS REJECT EUROSTAR STRIKES

Train drivers on the Eurostar service, which uses the Kent high-speed rail link, have voted against taking industrial action over pay.

Members of Aslef voted not to walk out in protest at an offer worth 3.5% this year and inflation plus 0.5% next year.



About 44% of the drivers, the highest paid in the industry, backed a campaign of industrial action


Parish Council warned over blocking further expansion

Contributed by editor on Jan 23, 2004 - 07:38 AM

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PARISH COUNCIL WARNED OVER BLOCKING FURTHER EXPANSION

In a letter from local landowner Paul Tory addressed to the Council Chairman and read out at this month's Parish Council meeting, he has warned that the commercial centre planned for the entrance to the industrial estate could never get built if further village expansion is blocked.

Mr Tory talks in his letter about the planning application for the new commercial centre. He said that the application was approved and they are seeking occupiers.



"At this moment we are poised to sign agreements with two solid outlets that should enable us to come back to the council with detailed applications. If this goes ahead the centre could be quickly viable" he writes.



Mr Tory continues: "It must be said however that it is not easy to find occupiers, as they seek assurances on the number of houses that will be built. Obviously they need a certain population for their ventures to be economic.

"Any decision to block the future expansion of the village and the building of the bypass will be detrimental to getting the centre started.

"I think it will probably kill it altogether.

"A similar situation arises with the industrial estate".

He said: "We are very keen to sell the land but it seems that buyers want the bypass in place before they are prepared to commit.

"I hope that this letter will give the members of your council an idea of the commercial problems as seen from our side of the fence and that are obstructing the progress that we both seek,"