Lib Dem concerns grow after failed shareholder meeting

Lib Dem councillors leaving the shareholder meeting, where neither the company chairman nor the managing director were present to answer our questions about the companies’ governance and performance.

Liberal Democrat members of East Cambridgeshire District Council walked out of a meeting tonight called to discuss the council’s two trading companies. 

All councillors were invited to what was billed as a shareholder meeting for East Cambridgeshire District Council’s two trading companies. We had been advised that this was a meeting run by the trading companies, and expected the opportunity to raise important questions of governance and performance with the company chairman and the managing director.

Lib Dem councillors were dismayed and alarmed to find that neither the chairman nor the managing director of the companies was present, that the council chairman was running the meeting, and that there would be no opportunity to discuss governance and performance issues with the chairman or the managing director of the companies.

In response to questions from Lib Dem councillors, confusing and contradictory advice was given about the rules under which the meeting was being conducted. Lib Dem councillors pointed out that if the meeting was a council meeting it should have been open to the public, whereas if it was a company meeting the company chairman should have been chairing it.

We were shocked to discover that there was to be no opportunity to have our questions answered by the company chairman, that the meeting appeared to be neither a company meeting nor a council meeting open to the public, and that no minutes would be taken. We could not possibly remain under those circumstances.

The way in which this meeting was handled only adds to our growing list of concerns about the council’s trading companies.

Tory councillors in shock company resignations

Image result for east cambs trading company

East Cambs Liberal Democrat councillors were shocked to receive a letter yesterday afternoon (8 October) from the Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council Cllr Anna Bailey, tendering her resignation and those of councillors David Ambrose-Smith, David Brown and Joshua Schumann with immediate effect as directors of the council’s two trading companies.

The reason given for the resignation is that the four councillors “have been consistently advised that we cannot, as Directors of the Trading Companies, fully participate in business of the Council in which there are implications for the Companies” and therefore “cannot take part in important debates and motions arising from the new political make-up of the Council”.

The letter goes on to state that officers will be recommending that councillors should no longer be members of the company boards.

It seems extraordinarily irresponsible for Cllrs Bailey and Ambrose-Smith to abandon the board of the council’s main trading company just at the point when it is embarking on the major project of refurbishing the former MOD homes in Ely, leaving the company without the required minimum of four directors.

The resignations of Cllrs Schumann and Brown also leave the council’s waste collection and street cleaning company without the required minimum of directors. The all-councillor Shareholder Meeting of the companies previously arranged for Thursday evening also looks set to go ahead without a full complement of directors to answer questions on the companies’ accounts, performance and business plans.

It appears from Cllr Bailey’s letter that the sole reason for these resignations is to ensure that the Conservative group can vote down any Liberal Democrat proposals on the agenda for the full council next Thursday 17 October.

We are seeking urgent legal advice about the implications of this decision, about which we were given no prior warning.

Climate change research

Holme Fen Posts, Holme Fen Nature Reserve

An interesting presentation to Cambridgeshire county councillors and staff yesterday about climate change and the size of Cambridgeshire’s carbon footprint, by some postgraduate students from CUSPE, the Cambridge University Science & Policy Exchange.

The county council is currently working on a climate change strategy to support its recent declaration of a climate emergency, and I’m one of five councillors on a working group supporting officers in drafting this strategy.

Two standout points from the presentation we heard.

  1. The need to increase capacity to distribute energy through the grid, for all those electric vehicles, and for domestic use by households which will no longer be on gas or oil; and the need to decentralise energy production.
  2. The importance of peatland – three per cent of the earth’s surface, but the largest natural terrestrial carbon store. Draining and agriculture have released large amounts of carbon over hundreds of years, and restoration of peatlands needs to be considered as a priority.

The image above is of Holme Fen Posts, Holme Fen Nature Reserve, and shows posts marking the original level of the peatland before drainage.

Image © Copyright JThomas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. 

Recent planning applications

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The following planning applications in the Sutton division have been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

19/01357/FUL
Coveney
Land adjacent 2 Gravel End Coveney CB6 2DN
4 dwellings and associated works.

19/01303/FUL
Little Downham
Ash Lodge 6A Third Drove Little Downham
Installation of a mobile home to include timber cladding facade with a raised decking platform to the front of the unit (retrospective).

19/01057/FUL
Little Downham
Barnhouse Holme Lane Little Downham
Single storey side extension, internal and external alterations and garage conversion.

19/01332/FUL
Sutton
Tubbs Farm The Gault Sutton
Single storey rear extension and detached garage.

19/01080/FUL
Sutton
Rear of 10 Ely Road Sutton CB6 2QD
Proposed two bed dwelling.

19/01342/VAR
Wentworth
College Farm Main Street Wentworth CB6 3QG
To Vary Condition 8 (The development hereby permitted consists of solely self-build dwellings as defined in the Custom Housebuilding Act 2015) of previously approved 18/00840/OUT for All matters reserved except access for the redevelopment of the farmyard, buildings and associated land for up to 6 self build plots.

19/01341/FUL
Witcham
11A The Orchards Witcham CB6 2LR
Garage conversion.

19/01079/FUL
Witchford
13 Manor Close Witchford CB6 2JB
Single storey rear extension and internal alterations.

Further information can be found on the district council’s planning pages. If you would like to respond formally to the council about any planning application, comments should be addressed to the district council and not to me.  Comments may be made

  • online using the council’s public access web page (the link above);
  • by email to plservices@eastcambs.gov.uk;
  • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.

Help choose the programme at your local library

‘The Library Presents’ is inviting members of the public to help choose which performances and workshops they would like to see in the next season (Spring 2020) at local libraries.

A menu of events is available from now until 5 October at participating libraries including Ely, or online at www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/arts.

The menu includes dance, theatre, music, magic, comedy, circus, puppetry, storytelling, poetry and workshops in a variety of disciplines, from visual and digital art to music, theatre and dance. The full programme will be announced in January.

Tickets for autumn events can be purchased at participating libraries, by phone or online at www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/arts where there is also a video showcasing the autumn events programme.

Thriving, not growing

A sit-up-and-listen talk from economist Kate Raworth, about an economic model that balances essential human needs and environmental boundaries. Can our economies grow forever? What does that demand do to the limited resources of our planet? A timely presentation with very local relevance, as Cambridgeshire’s Combined Authority has signed up with Government to double the growth of our local economy, while at the same time Cambridgeshire’s county council has declared a climate emergency.

Ely bypass overspend: the auditors report

The County Council’s auditors, LGSS, have carried out a full and extensive audit of the overspends on the Ely bypass. The resulting report has been presented to the council’s Audit and Accounts Committee.

The report found that “due to the desire of key stakeholders to get the project completed in the shortest timescales possible, and the consequent design of the Contract, insufficient time was given to the project planning stage which, when combined with the type of Contract used during construction, meant that the true costs of the project were not available to officers nor Members until the project was near completion”.

The report made six recommendations:

  1. Consideration should be given to whether the Constitution should be adapted to incorporate limits to delegating authority away from Committees, particularly when there are significant financial implications. In instances where officers are given delegated authority to make significant decisions outside of their ordinary powers as stated in the Scheme of Delegation, even in consultation with some Members, then reports should be provided to relevant Members or Committee which outline the decision that was taken, particularly in high-risk areas or projects.
  2. Future projects should follow a procurement and design stage which takes full account of advice from key officers, the procurement team, any external consultants and suppliers. This should include a provision for extending certain phases of projects; such as the design stage. The relevant Committee on any project should be made aware of any risks associated with the procurement/design process being recommended to them, including any impact this might have on the final costs of the Project.
  3. In instances such as the Ely Bypass project, with numerous spend increases compared the original budgeted and contracted amounts, regular updates should be taken to the relevant Committee. These updates should include the current price and the most up-to-date target/expected final price, along with a detailed project risk register, which should give an overview of the key areas where further price increases may occur, as well as the likelihood of these price increases.
  4. The Project Board should insist on the most up-to-date figures on cost at all times, even if the final expected figure is not known. Further, rather than being left to individual officers to decide when the Committee is informed on the progress being made on the project or on any price increases, this decision should have been made by the Project Board, who should dictate when any risks on the project, including any overspends, are presented to Committee.
  5. Directors should manage, or if necessary escalate, situations where there is pressure to pursue actions that do not follow normal governance rules. It is recommended that a simple procedure is put in place for instances requiring escalation through a short report to the next available Joint Management Team. Regarding this recommendation, the Internal Audit team will always be available to support officers with emailed advice on procedures should there be a need.
  6. Rather than waiting for the Project Board meetings for Members of the Board to be told about the Contract, the Project Board should be provided with the Dashboards every month, in order to allow any concerns which the dashboards may raise to be discussed as early as possible Future projects should follow a procurement and design stage which is in line with advice from key officers, the procurement team and any external consultants.

Image © Copyright John Sutton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Recent planning applications

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ECDC-building-small-300x182.jpg

The following planning applications in the Sutton division have been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

19/01123/HEN
Coveney
4 Gravel End Coveney CB6 2DN
Construction of single storey rear extension which extends beyond the rear wall by 7.2m, has a maximum height of 4.0m and an eaves height of 2.4m.

19/01135/FUL
Sutton
21 The America Sutton CB6 2NY
Proposed roof extension and conversion over an existing swimming pool with a stairwell link.

19/01139/FUL
Sutton
17 Mostyn Close Sutton CB6 2QJ
Conversion of outbuilding.

Further information can be found on the district council’s planning pages. If you would like to respond formally to the council about any planning application, comments should be addressed to the district council and not to me.  Comments may be made

  • online using the council’s public access web page (the link above);
  • by email to plservices@eastcambs.gov.uk;
  • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.

Polling district and polling place review

East Cambridgeshire District Council is conducting a review of the Parliamentary polling districts and polling places that fall within its boundaries.

The Council welcomes input from any elector resident within the district. Representations may be made about the arrangements and their accessibility for electors. The Council welcomes views regarding accessibility for disabled voters, including from bodies or persons with experience or expertise on these issues. Where appropriate, alternative arrangements should be proposed.

Representations can be made by email to elections@eastcambs.gov.uk or by post to Electoral Services, East Cambridgeshire District Council, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 4EE. Details of those representations made will be published on the Council’s website. The review will run until 30 September 2019. Recommendations will be presented to Full Council on 17 October 2019. Any changes will be implemented on the register of electors to be published on 1 December 2019.

Image: Man vyi [Public domain]

Local government spending review delayed

The Government has announced a year’s delay to its long-planned Spending Review of local government, ‘to allow officials to focus on preparing for Brexit’. A one-year spending round will be announced in September instead.

Across the country, vital local services provided by councils face a funding gap of more than £5 billion next year, rising to £8 billion by 2025. Councils urgently need certainty about how local services will be funded in years to come and a guarantee that they will have enough money to meet the growing demand pressures they face next year.

Only with the right funding and powers can councils meet their legal duties to provide dignified care for people who are elderly or disabled, protect children, prevent and reduce homelessness, and protect the wide range of other valued local services which also make such a positive difference to communities and people’s lives.