Before we begin our report by our public face, who attended the Annual General Meeting of Folkestone & Hythe District Council meeting last night, 24 May 2023, which saw the divvying up of Cabinet jobs to Green & Lib Dem Cllrs, there is some house keeping to do.
On Tuesday 23 May, we wrote about fire doors. At last night’s AGM meeting, one notes from the images supplied by our public face, the fire door that opens into the chamber, remained propped open during the whole of the meeting.
Research conducted in 2022 by the British Woodworking Federation as part their Fire Door Safety Week campaign ‘Close the Door on Fire’, shockingly found that over 30% of those asked believed that a fire door that was propped open with a wedge or a fire extinguisher was safe.
Neither elected Cllrs or officers seemed concerned about a fire door left open. Fire doors save lives and should be closed.
Moving on, Cllr Jim Martin (Green) at 68, has become the youngest elected leader of Folkestone & Hythe District Council in the last 20 years. He made it clear there was “much debris to clear up” from the last Tory led administration, including the £18.5m deficit over the next four years. However, this statement made by the new leader Cllr Jim Martin is not true, as the cumulative deficit according to the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy is £16.5m (page 8).
How he magicked £2m into existence, to make the deficit worse, we simply don’t know.
Cllr Martin also made clear that Princes Parade is saved, which drew a huge round of applause from the public gallery. He did say also there are a very complex set of issues to remove, and this will take some time. He did not say how long they’d take to remove, or how much this will cost.
He continued by saying there was a loss of £4.3m for Princes Parade. However, the Council’s data makes it clear this is £4.9m; which is £600,000 pounds more than he quoted. That said, Cllr Jim Martin, the new leader of the council, did say back on the 14 Feb 2023, at the Overview & Scrutiny Committee, the sum “lost” on Princes Parade was £5m and more.
Regardless of whatever party is in power, presenting false or misleading information to the electorate must not occur, like fire doors must not remain open, when they must be closed. Residents of the district voted for change, so we ask for it to be delivered, along with the right facts and figures.
Cllr Martin made a further commitment to move to a Committee system by May 2024, as Cllr Martin believes this style of governance will be more inclusive.
However, we honestly believe any system (within reason) can, with the right attitude, be managed to be democratic, to be accountable, to work in the interests of local people. We do not think that there are definitive “pros and cons” to any one system.
The single most important issue in making any council accountable, transparent and involving of local people is culture – the mindset, attitudes and values of those in decision-making positions. A mere change of governance system will not deliver this – on its own.
For now we are stuck with a cabinet system; which the coalition between the Greens & Lib Dems believe is not democratic and inclusive.
On another note, Labour have not received a single job in the Cabinet. This is because their National Executive Committee prevented them from getting into bed with a Green – Lib Dem coalition. That said, they have taken the Chair of the Council, the Chair of the Audit & Governance Committee, Chair & Vice Chair of the Planning & Licensing Committee, and the Chair of the Personnel Committee.
Finally the changes the electorate voted for have been made, and the new Green – Lib Dem lead Council have not got off to a perfect start. Lets hope that things will improve, or we’ll be back to where we were when the Tories were in power, and that’s a place nobody wants to revisit.
The Shepway Vox Team
The Velvet Voices of Voxatiousness