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.