• An unusual scrutiny committee meeting

    26th October 2012 | News | Claire
  • – the council leader was stumped by unexpected questions from the committee chairman
    – tempers flared over a report on car parking
    – an embarrassing trouserless moment occurred
    – a fit of uncontrollable giggles took place. as a result
    – another unnecessary declaration of interest was made

    … all to a very hissy recording of the meeting. 

    And there was a peaceful resolution to a row building over the inaccurate minutes of last month.

    Inaccurate minutes

    When we arrived at the meeting there was a printed amendment to last month’s highly controversial inaccurate minutes, involving East Devon Business Forum (EDBF).  The effect of the draft (inaccurate) resolution would have been to tightly constrain what the taff could focus on.

    The printed resolution on the draft set of minutes had borne no relation to what had been agreed and the list of what Cllr Graham Troman had wanted to focus on in his EDBF task and finish forum (taff) had been missing.  But last night’s resolution seemed broad enough to satisfy the committee (including me) that the taff would not be unduly constrained. 

    So … unexpectedly, for once, no one argued and everyone agreed!

    Sound recording of the meeting
    The next unexpected moment was communications portfolio holder, Cllr Ian Thomas standing up to announce to the committee that he was going to tape record the meeting as a ‘test’ in preparation for a report he was working on for next month’s scrutiny meeting, where sound recordings of meetings are due to be debated.

    He said no members of the public would be recorded and that he had spent £3.50 on some sound equipment, which had free software.

    Although the move to test record the meeting was much welcomed (by me, Cllr Roger Giles and some members of the public at least) unfortunately, once switched on, it caused the microphones to whine and hiss so much, it was akin to a headache. 

    Eventually the entire loop system was switched off as so many of us were struggling to hear what was being said, over the interference. 

    Well done Cllr Thomas, however, on his proactive piece of work to test out a potential recording system, in advance of November’s meeting.

    Thorny questions to the leader

    Returning to the start of the meeting, committee chairman, Cllr Stuart Hughes, lobbed two unexpected questions at council leader, Paul Diviani, which threw him off balance.

    Cllr Hughes asked firstly, why there was an amended outline planning application for the Knowle.  He said he had never heard of amended outline plans before and expressed his disappointment that he had to read of the amended application, in the media.

    The leader, obviously surprised by the question, mumbled that if he had some notification of the question he could have looked into it, adding that it wasn’t EDDC that had submitted the plans it was its consultants.

    The second question related to Alexandria Industrial Estate and the leader’s published interview with the Sidmouth Herald, featured in the previous week’s paper, in which Cllr Diviani was quoted as saying that the access to Alexandria Industrial Estate was ‘too problematic.’ 

    Cllr Hughes said he had had a meeting with highways officers about Alexandria Industrial estate and its access, who had confirmed that there was not a difficulty with the access.  Cllr Hughes said he had this in writing.

    Cllr Diviani replied that his words ‘were a quote from a quote, I gave…’

    Cllr Hughes confirmed that his (Cllr Diviani’s) words were reported in the Sidmouth Herald last week.

    Declarations of interest
    Then it was time for declarations of interest.  Cllr Pauline Stott declared an interest in the item on car parks because she owned a campervan.  There was the usual tittering at this unnecessary declaration of interest, from some quarters.

    Health presentation

    A presentation on health from NHS Devon, representative, Tamara Powderley resulted in a reassurance about the future of community hospitals in East Devon, following my question after a GP expressed concerns over their future on BBC Radio Devon yesterday morning. 

    Ms Powderley told the meeting that the GPs were very committed to the community hospitals and was not aware of any risk to their future.

    Car parking report
    Some members may have thought that Cllr David Cox might spontaneously combust during a stand-off with Cllr Mike Allen, who was criticising a review of car parks, along with Cllr Tim Wood, as not being drawn together by a policy.

    Cllr Cox looked a bit red in the face and told the meeting loudly that everyone was being very negative and there shouldn’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach, as every car park and town was different.  He threw his papers down on his table and sat down again.

    During the Ottery section on car parking the recommendation in the report stated that part of the Land of Canaan car park may have future ‘development potential,’ which should be considered following a three year period monitoring demand.

    Cllr Roger Giles read out some figures which showed that the usage and income had doubled in the past year or so.  He proposed that this particular recommendation be deleted, but was voted down.

    Cllr Cox said there should be a three year review, which was about reviewing assets.

    Richard Eley, a Sidmouth chamber of commerce member, read out some alarming figures which he had also calculated a significant loss of jobs.

    He said that in 2009 there was a huge 17.15 percent increase in car parking charges, which had seen a resultant decline in use by shoppers, of 16 percent.

    He said EDDC was as a result, £34,000 a year better off, however traders had taken a huge hit, with around 120 job losses across the district.

    West Dorset Council, said Mr Eley, had managed to keep their charges low and town centres there were doing well and the council was also receiving a good income.  It was an approach that worked, he added.

    I asked the officer presenting the report on car parking what her reaction to Mr Eley’s presentation was but no one in the room had the necessary figures in front of them to be able to comment accurately.

    After a protracted discussion, it was agreed to defer the item to the next meeting when the full figures were available. 

    Cabinet member, Cllr David Cox’s suggestion that the cabinet could look at the report and review the information Mr Eley had raised, was fortunately, widely rejected by the scrutiny committee!

    An embarrassing trouserless moment
    Now we reach a most delicate moment.  Those of you who are easily offended please be advised to exit my website immediately. 

    A certain member of the scrutiny committee, who shall be known as Cllr X to spare his blushes, got in a bit of tangle with his trousers. 

    As he got up to leave the meeting, Cllr X’s trousers unfortunately decided to stay in their sitting position. 

    As a result, a large pair of underpants were on display to anyone looking in that particular direction at that particular moment. 

    I managed to miss most of the unfortunate expose, but accidentally caught Cllr X’s eye as he hastily hoiked up his trousers and (wearing a sheepish expression) hurried from the room. 

    I looked around the room to see who else had noticed this jaw dropping moment, but remarkably, everyone seemed to be blissfully unaware, except Cllr Hughes, the committee chairman, who returned my stunned look with mingled disbelief and amusement.

    But it was too much for Roger Giles, who had been subjected to a much clearer view of the spectacle than I had been, and was trying in vain to stifle uncontrollable giggles. 

    Red-faced and wiping his eyes with his hanky, he had to leave the room twice to try and regain his composure.  Little hiccoughs of mirth exuded from him at regular intervals for the rest of the meeting.