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Following the election its time for the big jobs share-out. Three new members in a District Council Cabinet of seven people - still nobody from Chipping Norton. Hardly what you would call representative local government. Sadly Tony Walker is bowing out so Hilary Biles has now added Tony's Leisure and Tourism portfolio to her Health responsibilities. Far too much for one person - particularly when you consider she is a County Councillor as well. Perhaps Hilary could now please follow up on Tony Walkers promise at the last Partnership Public Forum to see if the WODC Tourism Department could see its way to paying the measly 700 needed to reprint a Chippy tourist leaflet. Its high summer. There is no Visitor Information Centre and no literature. Not surprisingly there aren't many visitors either. I notice that Hilary has also become Champion for Elderly People. If she needs any advice about that me and my geriatric friends are always ready to contribute suggestions. But I doubt she will be interested since I see she is also Champion for Young People and I guess she will find that side of her job much more exciting. And what on earth will now happen at the Partnership where Hilary has been the County representative and Tony Walker the District representative - with his Economic Development hat on Will we finally see Verena (the new WODC Economic Supremo) come to Chipping Norton Seems unlikely but there's always a first time for everything. Verena was a great buddy of the late lamented (and recently departed to greener pastures) Mary Neale who must have told Verena about the long fun Partnership evenings to be had at Chipping Norton School hearing about why nothing has happened yet. Verena would be a welcome and stylish addition. Or might it be new Cabinet member Jill Dunsmore from Woodstock. A charming lady we know well from the Uplands Planning Committee and now set to take over a raft of important social issues like Community Development, Housing and Policing.
But the real stitch-up happened when the new Council got round to deciding on membership of its committees. Obviously the Conservatives chair and dominate all the committees but these pesky opposition folk have to be given some kind of say so there is an incredibly arcane and virtually unintelligible method of allocating how many places the non-Conservatives get on each committee. It depends on the number of seats the parties won in the election. Committee places are only given to political groups. There are only two groups - the Lib Dems and the so-called Independents (who are mostly a group of Tories who stomped out of the official party organisation during a constituency bust-up a few years back). You are not allowed to be a "group" if you are a single representative so Eve Coles (pictured left) - the only Labour member in West Oxfordshire - was invited to join the Independents. She accepted since it was her only chance of getting on a committee. (Charles Cottrell Dormer of the Independent Group is a pretty staunch Democrat and strongly defends the invitation to Eve despite challenges from the official Tories) In fact in the last Council Eve was allocated one of two Independent places on the Environment Committee which she was very pleased about. Environmental matters are her main concern these days and she threw herself into everything to do with recycling, waste, litter, advertising signage, air quality, HGVs and of course public toilets. She was looking forward to carrying on with the work. It is difficult to imagine anyone in the District who cares or knows more about environmental matters than Eve. She is both passionate and expert and any council would have to be plain daft not to want to utilise both those qualities. So guess what has happened Eve has been manoeuvred off the Environment Committee. Because the Independent Group lost a seat in the recent election their entitlement to committee places in total was reduced by three. In order to maintain their representation on the Planning and Development Control committees the Independents chose to give up both their seats on Environment so Eve was dumped. Its difficult to understand why they did not retain one Environment seat and cut down by one elsewhere. Difficult to believe that there was not some skullduggery involved. The rules say.. "All of the Committees are required to be appointed in accordance with the rules relating to political balance". This is clearly not the case on the Environment Committee where there is no Independent member. Did I hear somebody shout "Fix". This is all small-minded, unseemly and a great pity. We had been looking forward to putting the election behind us, burying the party hatchets and re-establishing co-operative relationships in approaching Chippy issues. It looks as if that will have to wait a while!
But here's a surprise. Newly installed on the Environment Committee is Chippy's very own Councillor Townley (pictured right) - who nobody up to now would have taken for a keen Green. Dave must have been getting to him. Chunky is also promoted to be Vice-Chairman of the Economic Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Congratulations Chunky. Good for Chippy and good for the burgeoning political career of Councillor Townley! Surely a Tory star in the making.
JOBS SHARE OUT AT WITNEY CONTINUES
Tomorrow (23rd may) the WODC Cabinet will decide who is to represent the District Council on the 69 (yes you read that right - 69) outside bodies and quangos on which West Oxfordshire have a seat. Given the total absence of any backing for Chippy's tourist activities, it's amusing to see that the District's nomination for TOURISM SOUTH EAST is our very own Mrs Hibbert-Biles. No disrespect to her but what does she know about tourism exactly Probably more than she knows about swimming pools but she is nonetheless nominated for a seat on the Main Board of Wycombe Leisure (as well as the Local Board) There must surely be some remuneration involved in that appointment. But Hilary's multi-faceted talents demand her presence on a whole raft of other bodies. These other nominations are....Local Authorities World Heritage Forum - West Oxfordshire Drugs and Alcohol Action Group - Supporting People Commissioning Body - Burford Traffic Advisory Committee -South East Oxfordshire NHS Primary Care Trust National Service Framework for Older People - Age Concern (Oxfordshire City & County) Older Peoples Forum, So that looks like TEN quango places for Mrs Hibbert-Biles. (Not forgetting a role as second alternate on the South East Regional Assembly) Guess how many are proposed for Councillor Eve Coles - who has forgotten more about social housing, caring for old people and playing fields than most of the WODC councillors ever knew. You guessed correctly. NUL POINTS. NO NOMINATIONS. The spiteful pay back continues. What does the ballot box matter
And what's going on with the Chipping Norton Partnership exactly The first WODC representative on this body three years ago was the all-powerful Economics Supremo Mary Neale. She was then succeeded by the very influential long-standing Cabinet member Tony Walker. There is only supposed to be ONE representative - but TWO are now proposed. Our very own Tory District Councillors Chunky Townley and Mike Howes. What does this mean Is there to be a duel at dawn on the Common to decide who is appointed Either way its fairly clear that the Cabinet top brass at WODC are losing interest in Chipping Norton. I am amazed to see Chunky allowing himself to get embroiled in this Partnership nonsense - particularly after all the things he has said about it. Probably Hilary has been leaning on him again. Mike Howes is already on the Steering Committee so why didn't they propose Eve Coles Come on folks - now you are having a laugh. The Partnership is to be an exclusive Tory preserve from now on. Wait for the Tory town councillors to muscle in as well. Watch out Rob. Hilary has got you firmly in her sights.
Of all the 69 appointments there is at least one which is incredibly important. The West Oxon representative on the Joint Oxfordshire Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee. This committee is the nearest thing to an effective patients watchdog over local healthcare facilities that exists. Its potential for influence - given a strong Chairman and good members - is enormous. As the Radcliffe re-organisation and the fight for the Horton continue, and the fate of Community Hopspitals in Oxfordshire is settled, the role of this committee will be crucial. It is great news that Chunky Townley has been appointed as the single West Oxfordshire representative on the committee. I call that a really inspired choice. Congratulations to him. He will do a superb job. He has been a terrific Leader of the Hospital Action Group in Chippy - experience that will now stand him in good stead. If Chunky carries on being his own man he will be able to count on wide and solid support in the town. His down to earth plain speaking will win him lots of friends on a wider scale as well. The Oxford City LibDems will find out that not all Oxfordshire Tories are the same smarmy, smooth-tongued double dealers they have become used to! Sock it to them Chunky!
VENDETTA AGAINST EVE - ROUND 2
Readers will remember how furious the Tories were that Eve Coles succeeded in retaining her seat at the District Council election in May. This was despite superhuman efforts from the local Chipping Norton party organisation. After the election the Tory ruling group in Witney set about ejecting Eve from the important Environment Scrutiny Committee on which Eve had served with great distinction - relentlessly pursuing issues like the Chippy Town Centre Loos, commercial recycling, street advertising and most importantly - Air Quality in Chippy Town Centre. It is probably true to say that Eve knows more about environmental matters than any other District Councillor. Her understanding of issues affecting Chippy is unrivalled and indispensable. What the heck - throw her off anyway.
This story now has a second chapter.
This month the Lib Dem member of the Environment Committee (Liz Bickley) could not attend so the LibDem Leader Stuart Brooks asked if Eve Coles could substitute for her - given Eve's previous experience on the committee. There is a general rule (clause 4) in the WODC constitution which says that substitutes should come from the same political group. However Stuart knew that this clause did not apply to "non-political" committees like Planning sub-Committees so he carefully checked the Constitution and found (clause 22) a clear itemised list of the clauses and rules which apply specifically to Scrutiny Committees. The general rule about substitutions (clause 4) is not included on this list. So Stuart very reasonably assumed that it was OK for members from a different group to substitute on Scrutiny Committees just like on Planning Committees. Indeed it seems quite clear that the Constitution has been very carefully framed to allow this. Understandable since - after all - Scrutiny is supposed to be a non-politicised activity and should pretty obviously involve people who know most about the topic being scrutinised - not just party hacks.
Oh no! says the Chief Executive. I agree that Rule 4 is not mentioned but it should have been and the next time we get round to amending the Constitution we will make sure it is. Meantime sorry - Eve Coles cannot substitute.
Stuart has replied: " I will abide by your decision but am not convinced by your reasoning. I believe there are sound reasons for the omission of a reference to clause 4 in clause 22. Firstly, I believe that a group should select the best available substitute - one who could usefully contribute to the meeting irrespective of political persuasion. Secondly, I firmly believe that the scrutiny process cannot be effective if it is politicised. If decisions are based upon a party whip - a natural consequence of maintaining political balance at all costs - then irrespective of any discussion at the meeting, any vote is a foregone conclusion. In the present situation this means that any cabinet decision will be unquestioned. What then is the purpose of having scrutiny meetings"
It is quite amazing what legalistic nit-picking is being deployed in this spiteful political vendetta against Eve. It just shows how much WODC respect Chippy's democratic choice of councillor.
ANOTHER FINE MESS THEY'VE GOT US INTO!!
|A few weeks ago this dynamic Tory duo ventured on to the national political stage. They were the people who told David Cameron to carry on with his Rwanda trip while Shipton under Wychwood was under water. What a fine mess! Party HQ advised them to stick to local issues in future. So they turned their attention to the Chipping Norton Town Partnership. What could be more local than that What's to mess up there Barry and Hilary got to work. WODC waste 7,000 of our money every year on funding the Town Partnership which - as readers of this website will know - has achieved absolutely nothing in four years. So WODC must have a representative on the Partnership Steering Committee to make sure their money is spent wisely!!. In the past this has always been the WODC "economic" boss - Mary Neale followed by Tony Walker. After the May election the new "economic" boss didn't want the job - not surprisingly. So they cast around.....Hilary was already on the Committee as the County Council representative. Mike Howes (with his Rotary hat on) was already on the Committee as the "Charities" representative. They wouldn't even consider Eve Coles, No problem - Hilary decided that the mantle should fall on District Councillor Chunky Townley. He was duly appointed. This appointment was announced. Chunky was sent all the papers. He received a welcoming letter from the Headmaster (Chairman of the Partnership) and he was expected at the June Steering Committee meeting. Trouble is nobody asked Chunky (who was away) whether he wanted the job. The independent-minded councillor has always made his views of the Partnership pretty clear and wasn't interested in wasting his time. So he let Barry know. What a fine mess! But since Chunky was already "officially" appointed the whole process has to go back to the Cabinet for some other mug to be found. The decision meeting is scheduled for next week 22nd August. The Agenda says...." To consider the appointment of a replacement representative for Mr R Townley". How can you replace someone who was never a representative in the first place What a fine mess! Anyway there are no volunteers and no nominations. Shows just what WODC think about Chipping Norton. It should be worth attending the Cabinet meeting to see whose arm they they manage to twist - just to save their faces. What a fine mess! Stand by for further adventures of Hilary and Barry.
Won't the WODC Cabinet ever learn
|Readers will remember that the District Council have to find a representative to serve on the Chipping Norton Town Partnership. They appointed Chunky Townley while he was on holiday. Chunky wasn't best pleased when he got back and told them they could keep the job so last week the Cabinet resumed the search. Everyone knows the whole thing is a waste of money but since it is the District Council wasting most of the money they have to be represented. In the past it has always been the Cabinet member responsible for Economic Development who took on the chore - first it was Mary Neale and then Tony Walker. The new Economic Supremo is Verena Hunt and she made it crystal clear at the Cabinet meeting that she didn't want the job. From her experience in Carterton she knew for a certainty that it had to be a local person. They looked round for someone from Chipping Norton. Mike Howes very quickly made a speech which began..."Everyone knows what I think of Partnerships...." He seemed to be suggesting that Partnerships were just talk shops. Whatever it was he was suggesting it was absolutely clear he wasn't volunteering. So the only remaining District Councillor from Chippy was Eve Coles (Labour) - and the Tory Cabinet in its one-sided wisdom had never ever proposed Eve Coles for anything. Indeed only last month they had ousted her from the Environment Committee - the environment being one of Eve's huge passions and a real area of expertise. So it was to everyone's astonishment when Simon Hoare proposed Eve for the Partnership job - quickly seconded by Verena. Unfortunately Eve wasn't there. She was having a well-earned break. (Along with about forty other District Councillors who were not at the meting) Barry Norton in the chair was very grumpy..."I am surprised she isn't here" he huffed. How on earth was Eve supposed to know that the Cabinet would be cooking up this silly nomination. Nobody had checked with her whether she was happy to be nominated. And anybody who had listened to a word Eve has said in the last few years would have known she was opposed to the Partnership. So notwithstanding the fiasco with Chunky, the Cabinet ploughed on regardless and appointed Eve to the job. The official minute says....
"Chipping Norton Town Partnership
Mr Hoare suggested it was important that a local member served on the partnership and proposed that Mrs Coles should be appointed if she was happy to be nominated. This was seconded by Miss Hunt and on being put to the vote was carried".
There is news for the Cabinet. chippingnorton.net can exclusively reveal that Eve will not be accepting the nomination. "How could I be such a hypocrite" was her response to the invitation. So the Cabinet are now back to Square One. Perhaps they needn't bother. Apparently the Partnership are coming to the next Town Council meeting asking for some more money to carry on funding their boring website and their absurdly expensive Programme Manger whose legendary fundraising abilities don't seem to have achieved anything so far - after a year of trying. In order to find 3,000 for the Partnership last year a majority of the Town Council voted to cut all maintenance expenditure on the town's playgrounds. This was a disgraceful decision and will not happen again. Its time to stop wasting money on this hopeless quango.
THIRD TIME LUCKY
From the WODC Cabinet minutes: District Councillor Michael Howes has agreed to become West Oxfordshire District Council's representative on the Chipping Norton Town Partnership. Cllr Howes was already on the body as a representative of the Rotary Club but he has now relinquished that appointment to represent the council. The Rotary Club will now be invited to nominate another representative.
The Cabinet received and considered the report of the Chief Executive regarding the appointment of a representative to the Chipping Norton Town Partnership. Miss Hunt advised that, in the absence of any other nominations, Mr Howes had indicated that he would be prepared to relinquish his appointment to the Partnership by the Rotary Club and accept the Councils nomination, enabling the club to put forward an alternative representative. Mr Hoare thanked Mr Howes for his assistance in this respect and both he and Mrs Biles expressed their disappointment at the fact that Mrs Coles had felt unable to accept the Councils nomination.
The Editor comments: Talk about a poisoned chalice. This job has already been turned down by the other two District Councillors Chunky Townley and Eve Coles. Mike is up for re-election in six months time in a contest he is unlikely to win so its not exactly a long-term appointment. Mike did not represent the Rotary Club. He represented Town Charities. If I was in the Lions, the British Legion or the Masons or whatever - I would wonder about just how this is all being fixed up.