East Cambs Finance & Assets Committee

Tonight it’s Finance & Assets Committee at The Grange in Ely at half past four, with our usual lead member Cllr Alison Whelan committed elsewhere so Cllr Charlotte Cane is in charge of our group of four.

First up it’s the council’s Trading Company business plan. We’re not allowed to ask questions if they haven’t been submitted in writing two days in advance, which makes it (deliberately) difficult for opposition councillors to hold the East Cambs Conservative leadership to account. So there are lots of written questions, which the Leader of the Council seems to take as a personal affront. We’re not satisfied with the answers, so we request a recorded vote, and vote against the plan.

Then it’s the service delivery plans, and some searching questions have to be asked to ascertain who is monitoring the costs of the Conservatives’ ¬£9M white elephant crematorium. It appears it is the finance team after all, despite appearances to the contrary in the written answers to our questions.

After that, we move on to discuss the council’s emerging climate change and nature restoration chapter to be added to its increasingly dog-eared local plan. This is somewhat hampered by the Government’s announcement that council local plans will not be allowed to be more ambitious for carbon reduction than current building standards. We propose that the council should ask officers to update us regularly on how far other councils are able to move the dial on this, and that we should ask the Chief Executive to write to the Minister pointing out the short-sightedness of his announcement, but we are defeated by the Conservatives. There’s then a separate discussion about hedgehogs.

The asset management plan is passed without dissent, and then it’s that rare thing at East Cambs, a genuine debate with a genuine compromise hammered out at the end of it. This time it’s about the council’s updated whistleblowing policy. We propose that the council should seek to check this against the benchmark framework promoted by Protect, a national organisation that’s been supporting and advising whistleblowers for over thirty years. At first this is set to be defeated, but common sense breaks out, and after some debate we agree unanimously to pass the version of the policy in front of us with some minor amendments, but to investigate using Protect’s framework to evaluate our policy and report back in June.

The annual review of RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) policies is next. This is what governs how the council carries out surveillance and investigation, for example in planning enforcement or flytipping enquiries. A pre-development grant application from one of the Conservatives’ favoured Community Land Trusts splits the committee. Then it’s working party notes and the forward plan, before the committee moves into confidential session.

We emerge into the rain at around half past seven.

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