Fellow Darlington blogger, Nick Wallis, has already commented on the Echo's absence from Council on Thursday. While Nick rightly uses their absence to criticise the paper for failing to support the democratic process, criticism could equally be levelled at the Labour Cabinet for their continuing refusal to allow any proper debate in Council. When I suggested in the last Corporate Governance group meeting that we should consider ways of strengthening non-executive councillors, including giving them a right of reply in Council, this was flatly rejected by the Leader of the Council. Apparently this was a Lib Dem idea, and not part of Labour culture or tradition, so wouldn't be considered. Until such time as Cabinet members have to defend themselves in full debate in Council, the press may feel justified in preferring to attend their own local awards ceremony on the same night than report on what laughingly passes for debate in Council.
The meeting was intermittently amusing, and not just because one of the Conservative Councillors appeared to be fast asleep and then started speaking at the wrong time when suddenly woken up! From the Labour seats, as always, Cllr Dixon betrayed his true vocation as a music hall entertainer, though to be fair, his reports are detailed and interesting and he does not try to avoid questions put to him, unlike one or two of his colleagues.
Two of the newly elected younger Conservatives made their full Council speaking debuts with speeches on subjects of personal or ward importance. I wonder how long it is until newly elected Labour Councillors are allowed to speak! As it is, they just sit there and put their hands up at the appropriate times.
Without the press being there, any points scoring or successful questioning would go unreported, so there was little incentive to reveal one's hand on certain issues. I repeated my criticisms made in Cabinet about the lack of ambition inherent in the recycling targets agreed as part of the new Waste Management Contract. I also urged Cllr Dixon to continue the campaign against the rogue car dealers on North Road. But a couple of other points will be dealt with outside of full Council. With no press to report them, why reveal our hands in Council, where questions and criticisms are just batted back or ignored?
One of the mildly amusing aspects of Council is to see the chief officers scurrying along, bent over, to whisper the "right" answers in the ears of Cabinet members when the opposition ask questions. So, not only do they not have to face any follow-up questioning, there's always an officer there to help them out when needed.