Sunday, December 28, 2008
Voice for Business
As I catch up with some posting after the festivities, I've completed the first video reporting back from the last full Council meeting of the year. Cllr Tim Crowley proposed a motion that would make the formal changes necessary to allow business owners the right to ask questions at full council meetings and attend Local Committee meetings as special advisers. These are available to residents but not to people who may have a business in the area, maybe employ Sutton residents, certainly pay business rates, but don't necessarily live in the borough themselves. I had thought we had learned our lesson about taxation without representation some years ago when all of that tea went to waste.
The Lib Dems did not seem to understand the premise of the motion, instead taking it as a lead to have a debate about every aspect of business and the economy except the one matter that we raised. This was until close to the end of an interminable 56 minute session when the Lead Councillor for Resources accused us of being bureaucratic for wanting to amend the Constitution.
It was only last summer that the same councillor attempted to ride roughshod over the Council rules when defending his colleague over the Garden Waste fiasco. Now only six months later, he failed to understand that it was the Council's Constitution that was denying business owners a voice and that there was a convoluted process in place to avoid any individuals doing what they liked without any checks or balances. He also expressed concern that councillors should consider the risks and impact of any policies that they might introduce. Since he is the lead councillor responsible for the increases in Council Tax for the last three years, I can understand why he might be blissfully unaware of the need for such consideration, but I would have hoped that there would be one member of the majority party that might pull him back from the brink after a year where the Council has impacted quite spectacularly on residents.
The Council meeting overall was quite extraordinary. It was apparent to those in attendance that the administration has run out of steam. They opposed for opposition's sake. The fact that it is the Conservatives in Opposition seemed to pass them by; they still blamed Boris, Thatcher and David Cameron for things that weren't even up for discussion.
The end result of this motion was a watered-down amendment. We agreed with this because we genuinely wanted something to be done. I'm not convinced that we will see anything before the election as it was written off through the explanation that they needed to speak to businesses first. I've ranted on more than most about communication, but this is a consultation to tread water if ever I've seen one. There is no need to speak to anyone else. If businesses aren't interested in asking questions, they don't need to. They can just carry on as they are.
However, as it stands, if they do, they need to petition the Economic Development Taskforce to ask the Community Leadership Advisory Group (CLAG)to consider the matter and commission a report from the legal department which can then be considered by CLAG, recommended to the Executive and then ratified at a full Council meeting where constitutional changes tend to get pushed through once a year. The shortest time period this could happen is within the next three months. As someone who was self-employed for sixteen years, three months for a decision is no decision at all.