The March 2022 ‘Half-Full Council’ – the HBC leader’s ship sinks lower

The 16th March meeting of the ‘full’ council was particularly poorly attended considering the nature of the business on the agenda and the Cabinet’s need to demonstrate progress before the May elections. With productivity inevitably waning when the Council breaks for ‘the pre-election period’ on 28th March, there’s not much time left.

If you don’t want to watch the full video, refer to the table below to find a set of links to the individual meeting agenda items and dip in where you have an interest. Each of the underlined and italicised links will take you to the relevant part of the meeting.

Item 1 – ApologiesFor a council meeting of such importance, in the run up to the May elections, having 10 apologies out of a total of 38 councillors is highly unusual. In fact we believe the breakdown of numbers present was :

1 – Mayor
7 – Cabinet (all present)
13 – Back-bench councillors present
17 – Back-bench councillors absent

The extraordinary level of absenteeism has been attributed by some observers to be a reaction to the group whip and gagging order allegedly applied by the Leader, an allegation that the recording of the meeting would seem to support – see Item 18 below.
Item 4 – Mayor’s ReportRather than introduce her report, the Mayor calls on Mr. Matt Simmons from Bridge to Unity to say a few words and he does.

A worthy cause, a fine bunch of volunteers and all credit due to the Emsworth Councillors who lent their support to the effort.
Item 7 – Public Questions under Standing Order 27.5There were four questions raised by two of ‘the usual suspects’.

Mrs. Buckley asked three questions at the meeting, receiving spoken answers from Cllrs. Satchwell and Pike.

Mr. Comlay was unable to attend but Cllr. Bains was asked to respond in writing to his written question.
Item 9 – Havant Borough Local Plan update
Notable comment – Cllr. Kennett
Notable comment – Cllr. Linger
Notable comment – Cllr. Lloyd
Notable comment – Cllr. Bowerman
The long-running saga of HBC’s response to the Inspectors’ report of their examination of the previously submitted local plan is now finally over. Following the Planning Policy Committee meeting of 22nd February, the process has finally reached the end and this Council meeting has approved the inevitable.

It is worth listening to Cllrs. Kennett, Linger and Lloyd taking up the causes of their local ward residents in Emsworth, Hayling West and Waterlooville. Also Cllr. Bowerman on the opportunity to properly tackle climate change adaptation in the next attempt at a local plan.

Paraphrasing Cllr. Kennett, it’s unfortunate that this current Cabinet lacks the courage and the conviction to push back on the unacceptable housing demands from central government.
Item 10 – Havant Regeneration & Economy Strategy
Notable comment – Cllr. Lloyd
Notable comment – Cllr. Rennie
Cllr. Pike celebrates the achievements from the past three years, while conveniently ignoring the loss of last year’s £12M Levelling Up Fund bid at a cost of £150,000.

Take the link on the left to hear Cllr. Lloyd’s fundamentally important point on ‘affordable homes’ vs ‘social housing for rent’. We reported on this fully in our report of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting, and further in our report of the recent Cabinet Meeting.

Cllr. Rennie’s response (also linked on the left) is notable for its tone, its buzzwords and its rambling attempt at sincerity.
Item 11 – Freeports Programme UpdateWe’re genuinely sorry to hear that Cllr. Bains will be stepping down.

The wider implications of this particular ‘hot potato’ are probably not yet understood by this Council and we will be extremely interested to see who the Leader appoints to this portfolio role, and to the role of Havant Borough Council representative on the Solent Freeport Board.
Item 12 – Cabinet / Board / Committee Recommendations
Listen from the start of the agenda item here, or select from the next three items.
Item 12- 1 – Options for withdrawal from shared staff arrangements.

Notable comment – Cllr. Kennett
Cllr. Kennett’s comment and Cllr. Rennie’s response which follows it, speak volumes. We have no idea what the true cost or impact of this change will be.
Item 12- 2 – Council Tax Empty Homes review
Item 12- 3 – CIL Spending protocol

Notable comment – Cllr. Thain-Smith
Notable comment – Cllr. Kennett
Notable comment – Cllr. Francis
Notable response – Cllr. Robinson
Notable response – Cllr. Pike
Notable comment – Cllr. Lloyd
There is much discussion and debate – echoing that at the recent Planning Policy Committee meeting – with strong contributions from the Emsworth ward councillors, a group of councillors who regularly take up the causes of their residents and who are never shy to challenge the Cabinet position.

In this particular case, we would agree that the underlying principle behind the proposed changes in the CIL spending protocol is right.

It is, however, refreshing to hear back-bench councillors actively standing up for their residents, something that we lack in St Faith’s.
Item 13 – Leader’s ReportIn a late addition to his report, the Leader makes what can only really be described as an opportunistic pre-election bid for publicity. (See here for our report on the subject from December last year).
Item 14 – Cabinet Lead Reports
Notable report – Cllr. Pike
Nothing much to report here except for a recent change to Parking Services – see link to Cllr. Pike’s report on the left.
Item 15 – Cabinet Leads and Chairmen’s Question TimeCllr. Thain-Smith asks whether the Leader intends to make his WRSE response public. The Leader responds that since he’s already passed it to the press, he will do this.

Cllr. Lloyd comments that she’s invited Southern Water to come in before the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to answer questions on their ongoing discharges into the harbours. Cllr. Lloyd will also bring up the subject of the proposed Water Recycling Plant.

There are, astonishingly, no other questions for any of the Cabinet Leads or Chairs. Perhaps not so astonishing given that 18 of the Councillors were absent from the meeting.
Item 18 – Notices of Motion

“The Ukraine Motion”

Motion proposed by Cllr. Payter, seconded by the Leader.
This is the point at which everything started to go horribly wrong.

Listen to Item 18 from the beginning to hear the Leader’s approved text delivered with none of the gravitas the subject demanded. Alternatively, spare yourself and just begin at the point at which Cllr. Payter barely recovers from wishing the Australian people well in their fight.

When asked by the Chair, the leader reserves his right to speak, having instructed all but one of his group to stay silent.

Cllr. Francis then brings the appropriate dignity and sincerity to the motion, including her ill-fated amendment. An honourable lady still looking for a seconder.

Listen to her words carefully, and to the small ripple of applause which follows, and then ask yourself just who was making the cheap political point today?

The Chair asks if any members wish to debate this matter, the Leader leans over to the Chair and says “Cllr. Denton” – as predicted.

Cllr. Denton responds as instructed, though his discomfort with that instruction and his respect for the proposer of the amendment seems apparent.

“The one thing I can’t do, no matter how much it hurts, is endorse Cllr. Francis. And the reason I can’t do it is because Europe stand with the Schengen system; we, through Brexit, left… I can’t endorse it. I’m sorry.”

At the end of the day, Cllr. Francis was doing no more than to represent the heartfelt views of her residents, an approach that she’s used without fail over a long and distinguished career on Havant Borough Council.

Of the three contributors to this important agenda item, two were highly qualified to propose the motion. A true leader would have made the appropriate call.

For Toby Paine’s article in today’s ‘News’ please take the following link: