Dissent is what rescues democracy from a quiet death behind closed doors, said Lewis H. Lapham.
On another blustery, rainy day in Oct, another meeting will take place behind closed doors at Folkestone & Hythe District Council. This though is not any old meeting. No! It’s the inaugural meeting of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Working Group in the Folkestone Room at the Civic Centre Folkestone, at 9.30am( prorogue, prorogue, prorogue).
This working group has come about because of the Climate & Ecological Emergency declared by Folkestone & Hythe District Council on Wednesday 24th July 2019, at full Council by a motion tabled by Cllr Georgina Treloar (Green)
This meeting will not be open to the press and public.
In attendance should be:
Councillors Gary Fuller (Lib Dem), Jackie Meade (Lab) , Ian Meyers (UKIP), David Monk (Con), Georgina Treloar (Green) and David Wimble (Ind)
Council Officers: Tim Madden (Corporate Director), Charlotte Spendley (Assistant Director), Adrian Tofts (Strategy, Policy and Performance Manager) and Kate Clark (Committee Services Officer).
KCC Officer: Carolyn McKenzie (Sustainability and Climate Change Manager, Kent County Council)
The Authority of the Working Group is advisory and has no decision making powers. Officers will make the views of the group known to both cabinet and the overview and scrutiny committee through the formal decision making processes.
As such this means that any decisions/agreements will generate a report which will go before Overview & Scrutiny Committee first. O & S can only make recommendations to Cabinet, not compel it, or bind it. As such, the Cabinet could if it was so minded, choose not to implement the recommendations in the report. However, we believe it will not happen.
The Working Group has the power to make the meeting open to the public and the press if it chooses. Its Terms of Reference and Rules state:
Members of the Working Group are expected to work co-operatively and come to conclusions that are agreed by the group. Formal votes should therefore be rare with decision of the Working Group taken by general consent.
We suspect that it may not elect to open up the meeting to you, or the press.
The Climate & Ecological Emergency declared by our Council affects us all. After all 55% of the district is at, or below sea level. Air pollution levels are rising across mainly urban areas of the district. In 2010, 58 deaths in the district were directly linked to long-term exposure to air pollution, that number has increased to 97. To give these numbers context, that’s 24 families if one counts a family as Mum, Dad and two kids, or approx one third of the Council’s workforce.
Air pollution and flooding are just two obvious examples, others include, sea pollution, plastic, waste, recycling, loss of wildlife habitat and more, much more.
Practically, what difference will declaring a climate and ecological emergency make to you the residents, and businesses, who live in our district? A hike in council tax, business rates, more nanny state?
What plans will those behind closed doors formulate?
What exactly is the council’s role in local leadership on this issue?
What work needs to be undertaken with partners, and the community?
How can an understanding of climate change be mainstreamed into council business and practices?
How will progress be measured
Have current benchmarks been documented to measure from?
and many other questions.
After a mixed reception by Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests over the last ten days, across the Capital and other cities and towns in the UK, it would be normal to say such protesters do themselves no good when they go to the lengths they did in Canning Town. This does not do the image of protest here or anywhere else in the country any good.
Climate change is important and what XR and its affinity groups need to remember is: Britain is an evolutionary country, not a revolutionary country. And to those Cllr’s who have been arrested on XR protests recently, please bear this statement in mind.
All we hope is Folkestone & Hythe District Counciil and all those recently elected opposition Cllrs, who stood on a platform of openness & transparency, who now find themselves as possible accomplices to keeping the doors closed and revoking the election promises they campaigned on, realise they will be aiding and abetting Cllr Monk’s love of closed doors, by excluding the press and public.
Democracy dies behind closed doors. When local government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. It erodes trust, breeds a bunker mentality, and destroys democracy which is closest to the people. Local Government is the democratic coal face of interaction with the public at its most intimate.
We ask the Cllrs for the doors to be thrown open for the inaugural meeting of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Working Group and allow the public and the press in, allowing democracy to flourish , especially given that it is national democracy week.
The Shepwayvox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime