Last night at Scrutiny

It was a very heavily attended meeting with advocates of subsidy for the Rose theatre very much in evidence but not having the public gallery entirely to themselves.

Interestingly two of the regular Lib Dem attenders were absent and substituted by others whose views on matters theatrical coincide more closely with the Leader’s  (one suspects) than do the absentees’. I was reminded of the time when I chaired various Overview Panels and a pattern emerged whenever something came up for scrutiny that was controversial within the Lib Dem group, certain Lib Dems would apologise for absence and be substituted by alternates who could be relied upon to toe the party line.

Questioning of witnesses was very thorough and conducted in a pretty constructive spirit on all sides. However, as time went on I got increasingly uneasy about what had been done by the Executive and how.

  • I couldn’t see why some of the papers deemed confidential and kept out of the public eye were so classified.
  • I couldn’t see why the requirements of the Borough in this matter were so urgent as to warrant the waiving of Contract Standing Orders.
  • I wondered why a request made by the chairman of the Theatre Trust in writing to the Chief Executive on 14th October wasn’t actually presented to the Executive for action until 9th December, leaving Scrutiny to look at it the week before Christmas. If the need was so pressing, why hadn’t the Executive acted earlier so as to permit proper scrutiny and debate?
  • I was appalled that we were having our arms twisted – not for the first time – by the threat that, if we put any further obstacles in the way (by, for instance, insisting of our constitutional right to refer the matter to full Council), the Theatre would have to close on 31st December.

All this led to one conclusion  in my mind, which was that the intention was to railroad this decision through with reference to as few elected members as possible and they all of one party.

The suggestion that we might refer our concerns back to the Executive and then agree to have a debate on the issue in full Council some time in the new year was superficially attractive for about two minutes. The effect of going down that road would have been to allow the Executive to sign up to a three-year deal today, which would commit us into the middle of the next Council term. The debate would be of academic interest only as the Executive was not going to be dissuaded from its chosen course by the arguments of its critics. It had gone to some lengths already to avoid having to pay any heed to them.

As it is, in spite of all the squeals about the impossibility of holding a Council meeting before the New Year, the Mayor has today called one for next Tuesday. If he hadn’t done it voluntarily, I and four other Conservative councillors had signed a requisition for one anyway.

About pauljohnston

Elected as Conservative councillor in Surbiton Hill, Kingston upon Thames in 1998. Re-elected 2002 and 2006. Former parliamentary candidate in Lancashire and Birmingham. Ceased to be a Councillor (temporarily?) in 2010. Active among Residents' Associations in Surbiton Hill and among residents in social housing generally. Former teacher of History at St. Brendan's College Bristol and Head of History and Politics at the London Oratory School. Worked with Sutton Trust running summer schools for sixth formers at Oxford University from 1997-2000 aiming to improve uptake of places from pupils from state schools which sent very few applicants to Oxbridge.
This entry was posted in Conservatives, Kingston, Lib Dems, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Last night at Scrutiny

  1. Kevin Davis says:

    I am now confused by all this. If the money is to be used for services the theatre is offering, and is therefore not a subsidy, then why would the theatre close at the end of the month. Normally Councils would ring fence this money so that it can only be spent on delivering the agreed services and the money cannot be used for general cash flow. Were a charity to use the money in this way the charity commission would be investigating.

    You should be calling for this money to be ring fenced.

  2. pauljohnston says:

    You are absolutely right and the point was raised, but answer came there none. This is one of the reasons for sending the issue to full Council, as the reasoning of the Executive is so clearly flawed. However it is plain that, whatever the pretence, this is just a subsidy to keep the present group of people in control of the Rose. It is backed by ‘friends’ turning up in numbers to demonstrate support. A letter from the Friends’ chairman today thanks them for their efforts and invites them to turn up in numbers on Tuesday for the Council and the Executive. They won’t be demanding that the place be better run or that Osbourne honour his commitments to the voters or that the Council runs its affairs according to its constitution. No – it will just be ‘Give us the money!!’ Again!!!
    Of course the Blair system adopted in 2000 enables the Executive to ignore anything the Council decides and go ahead and give them the money anyway………

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