Town Council report July 2011

This  month’s report deals with the long-anticipated  departure of Suffolk’s Chief Executive, the Library scrutiny, my proposed motion re concessionary travel passes to next full council and a few words about a telecom mast…

Departure of SCC Chief Executive

Last week finally saw the departure of Chief Executive Andrea Hill from  Suffolk County Council.  I’m giving you the County Council statement in full:

“The Dismissals and Appeals Committee of Suffolk County Council has today (4 July 2011) concluded its investigation into the ‘whistle-blowing’ allegations made against Chief Executive, Andrea Hill.

“Bullying and harassment allegations were robustly investigated by an independent firm of solicitors. Although it remains a concern that such a perception existed, the Committee is satisfied that there was no evidence to support those claims or that she was responsible for the death of David White (former Head of Legal Services). The Committee wants to reassure staff that all allegations are treated extremely seriously.

“The Committee also received a report into Mrs Hill’s expense claims during her tenure as Chief Executive.  It has concluded that whilst there were undoubtedly claims which, in the current climate, might not represent best use of public money, the Committee accepted that there was no dishonesty in the claims made.

“Following a lengthy discussion last Friday, and negotiations between representatives of both parties over the weekend, the county council can now confirm that Mrs Hill will be leaving her post with immediate effect.

“There has been significant media attention attached to Mrs Hill which has become a distraction and both parties accept that with new political leadership of Suffolk County Council in place, it is better to allow the organisation to move forward with new managerial leadership.

“The county council would like to thank Mrs Hill for all she has done over the past three years and wish her well for her future.

“The total value of compensation to be paid to Mrs Hill is £218,592.  This figure includes her contractual notice period.”

Until a new appointment is made, Lucy Robinson will continue to stand in as interim Chief Executive.

Mrs Hill’s appointment and salary package were not ratified unanimously by the council: my party, for example, voted against both. However, as I understand it, any future appointment will be undertaken:

  • relatively slowly
  • in a spirit of considerably greater consensus
  • without this time incurring the expense of a recruitment agency (this is not only the expense of using one, but the expense that occurs by the possible ramping up of salaries by the agency to maximise its own profit on the transaction)

These days no public sector appointment can offer a salary greater than the prime minister (about £142,000) without specific permission being sought and gained. It is  therefore expected that Suffolk’s next Chief Executive  will be paid considerably less than our last one was.

County Council – Public questions & Agenda

The next Full Council meeting will take place on the 14th of July.

At this meeting, I will personally be putting forward a motion to extend the time that concessionary bus passes can be used for free in Suffolk.  For the last months the County Council provided  only basic free travel between 9:30 and 11.  I’m proposing a start time of 9am for those those who have the concessionary pass on the basis of age, and no time limitations at all for those  who are eligible for the pass on the basis of disability.  Implementing this  – as many other County Councils do – will help increase social mobility, and allow individuals to reach places of work, socialise, and to make hospital appointments without unneccessary restriction.

In addition to this,  the petitions to Save Suffolk Libraries – amounting to well over 36,000 signatures in toto  – will be heard and spoken to.

Libraries – Scrutiny Committee Recommendations

At the last Scrutiny Committee on the 14th of June Councillors discussed the County Councils Library policy, and made a number of recommendations in order to influence the policy decision which will take place later in July at the Cabinet meeting.  The papers for this meeting have now been published, and can be found on the County Council website. I would like to draw your attention to an anomaly in the paperwork for this:  there is a graph representing responses to the consultation, but it says:

NB The chart above does not include the response “Maintain as is”. This received 3099 out of the 3893 responses and therefore made a meaningful graph-based representation with the other responses impossible

This is not the case: you can see a graph showing all responses at James Hargraves’  blog.

The full Scrutiny Committee recommendations are:

a)                   the classification of County Libraries and Community Libraries referred to in the Consultation document is not a reasonable basis for a policy;

b)                   the potential community interest company agrees individual budgets for each library;

c)                   the business case considered by Cabinet should clearly demonstrate how the community interest company service would operate across the whole of Suffolk;

d)                   that the Council retain the ability to ensure that the terms offered by the community interest company were sufficient to maintain a sustainable service;

e)                   any claims on secondary taxation from Parish, Town, District or Borough Councils be carried out on an equitable basis across Suffolk;

f)                     due consideration be given to innovative ideas that have already come forward and any others that are received  from communities on how their services might be run;

g)                   the policy on mobile libraries be clearly stated in the report to Cabinet;

h)                   the Council provide absolute clarity to communities interested in running their libraries on issues they were likely to raise such as finance, staffing and legal issues;

i)                     the Council must satisfy itself on the financial viability of the plans put forward and that they are sustainable.

j)                     further expressions of interest are welcome and will be considered.

Health Scrutiny

The county council  having cancelled the Health Scrutiny committee last year, it has now become clear that health issues are occupying a disproportionate time of the one Scrutiny committee now remaining to us. The County Council has therefore decided to reinstate the Health Scrutiny Committee, which will  be meeting  next on the 20th of July.

Woodbridge matters: proposed new telecoms mast

Delivered verbally at the meeting

I have had several concerned people talking to me about the proposal of a new telecoms mast in Old Barrack Road.  It is for a 12.5 metre mast with 4 antennae and 2 dishes on it, in a very residential area and next to a mature sycamore tree. It ts also within 100 metres of Kyson school and Kyzone playgroup.

I have talked to a couple of officers in the SCC Highways department about this and it seems that the primary problem is that the telecommunications industry have a statutory right by licence to erect masts on public highway land. (Do not ask me how this iniquitous law which appears to support private enterprise at the expense of public opinion came into force but it goes back to 1984, say no more)

This statutory right is subject to the following:

“Mobile phone companies are granted a licence by central government under the Telecommunications Act 1984 which allows them to install their equipment (masts, cabinets) within the public highway, subject to approvals outlined below:

1.  SCC (as highway authority) approvals The licence requires mobile phone companies to ensure their equipment doesn’t cause safety hazard ie to ensure the masts and cabinets do not obscure visibility at junctions or obstructions to pedestrians. The area offices provide advise as required.

2. District council (local planning authority) approvals Planning legislation requires mobile phone companies to follow a 42-day prior approval procedure before erecting masts. This requires the company to erect a notice on site and write to the district council. During this period the district council can require details of the siting and appearance of the equipment and can approve or refuse permission for the mast.

3.  Planning permission Any freestanding mast in excess of 15 metres in height requires planning permission from the district council irrespective of prior approval procedure.

From the Suffolk County Council angle, therefore, one can only make an objection to the siting of the mast if it is considered that the siting of the mobile mast causes a traffic risk. I asked the SCC officers’ opinion  on this, and their opinion was that it did not, although maybe local residents with a greater understanding of living in the area might be able to prove differently. I am very happy to broker any concerns

However, you may notice points 2 and 3 which is where Suffolk Coastal District Council come into the picture as the local planning authority. I don’t know how far down the route this has gone.  I notice that SCDC has to grant planning permission for the mast to go up, in addition to  the prior approval procedure.

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