Hints of paranoia, the constitution, virtual locked doors and that M-word.

Havant Borough Council issued a press release today heralding the approval of the new Constitution by this week’s Council meeting. (The links in the press release rather confusingly point the reader to the old, superseded document, but we’re sure the Council Lead for Communication will be on the case.)

Wednesday afternoon’s Council meeting was chaired by the Mayor at a cracking pace and run as a completely virtual meeting for the first time. It was, however, at times a rather fractious and paranoid affair.

Appointment of the Monitoring Officer

The first item of interest was the formal appointment of Mr. Toohey as the Council’s ‘Monitoring Officer’. He’s been around as the Head of Legal Services since he was hired by East Hants District Council to help clean up the mess they’d dug themselves into. As a result, he knows a thing or two about the likely skeletons in HBC’s executive cupboard.

The role of Monitoring Officer has the specific duty to ensure that the council, its officers and its elected members maintain the highest standard of conduct in all they do, by:

  1. Reporting on matters he or she believes are, or are likely to be, illegal or amount to maladministration;
  2. Taking responsibility for matters relating to the conduct of councillors and officers; and
  3. Taking responsibility for the operation of the council’s constitution.

Mr. Toohey was rather quaintly ‘sent out of the room’ while a brief debate was held along the usual partisan lines, with the Bondfields kid clearly star-struck and the elder stateswoman of Warren Park urging caution for a couple of months until we knew the candidate a bit better.

Approval of the new Constitution

The main event on the Agenda was the proposal introduced by Cllr Bowerman that the Council adopt the New Constitution. Before beginning the debate, the Mayor referred to a deputation from Mr Munday on behalf of the Emsworth and Havant Labour Party which clearly proved too much of a red rag to the prospective County Councillor for Emsworth and St Faiths. Following the Mayor’s invitation to introduce the debate on the New Constitution, Cllr Bowerman clearly forgot herself and launched instead into a party political pre-electoral tirade over the use of the ‘M-word’*.

Eventually, the Mayor restored order and invited Cllr. Francis to propose a simple amendment to the motion, an amendment born out of her recent experience of being deliberately excluded from Cabinet meetings on topics where lack of scrutiny has already suggested an issue.

That was fairly clear. ‘Standing Order 57’ clearly refers to the New Constitution, since its counterpart in the current constitution is numbered as ‘Standing Order 56. You can take those links and compare the wording if you wish.

Debate on the amendment followed, including a rather curious point of order from Cllr Hughes who seems to have misheard Cllr. Francis referring to ‘Standing Order 57’.

The debate proceeded along the usual party lines, but with Cllrs. Carpenter, Francis, Guest, Hart, Lloyd, Robinson and Scott voting for the amendment, and Cllrs. Davis, Howard, Raines, Shimbart and Prad Bains abstaining. All in all, an indication that all is not well and that a recommendation that the Standards Committee should carefully review Standing Order 57 would be appropriate.

The substantive debate proceeded as expected, with only one observation of note to report, this one from Cllr. Pike. The ‘Bevan Brittan’ document that he refers to can be found here.

It seems to be getting tougher as a back bench councillor, to try and keep tabs on what the Cabinet is up to.

Use of the ‘M-word’

The relationship between Havant Borough Council and East Hants District Council is ‘clearly’ intended to cover nothing more than the efficient shared services we already know and love. There is, we are told, no undercover agenda to merge the two councils and anybody who utters the m-word is clearly deluded.

It’s hard to see why anybody would view the sharing of a single executive overseen by a single Monitoring Officer as anything other than a simple ‘shared services’ agreement.

As the saying goes, “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it must, indeed, be a duck”.

Unless, of course, it’s a platypus.