Wednesday, 12 June 2013

New council leader vows Tynedale will gets its share
Published at 07:37, Wednesday, 12 June 2013
IF Tynedale’s Tories are to be believed, dark times lie in store for the district 
Business chairman Coun. Scott Dickinson.
With a ‘Marxist’ Labour administration in power at Northumberland County Council, our voice will be drowned in the ‘Stalinist’ racket of the south-east, the doom-mongers claim.
To Hexham MP Guy Opperman, it seems we’re entering a “one party state”, while the Conservative group’s Coun. Glen Sanderson bemoans “the politics of revenge.”
Naturally, new council leader Grant Davey has a different perspective on things.
“It’s about the needs of the people,” he says. “And, yes, Tynedale will get its share.
“For example, the issue of Allendale Middle School’s closure will be coming again soon and our children’s services scrutiny chairman is desperate to make sure our meetings are held in the west so parents can come along.”
Indeed, on the face of it, much of the Labour manifesto looks, if anything, Tynedale focused.
You’ve got parking charges, job creation and boosting affordable housing on there and Coun. Davey is refreshingly open about the need to bridge the gap between the rural west and County Hall, a world apart in Morpeth.
“We also need to change from being a strategic authority to a service delivery authority,” he adds.
“There’s a long way to go before we change things, but people will see the improvements.”
Fair enough. But the bulk of the opposition’s venom hasn’t been targeted at policy so much as how Labour rose to power and how its dealing with the curse of being a minority administration.
At the recent county council elections, Labour won 32 seats out of 67, compared to the Conservatives’ 21, and the Lib Dems’ 11, meaning the party had to join forces with the three independents before it could rule the roost.
Two of those independents are from Tynedale – Anne Dale, a Conservative until recently, and Paul Kelly, a former Labour man.
But while Conservative group leader Coun. Peter Jackson has spoken of them letting down constituents, Coun. Davey doesn’t see it like that.
“They are all very honest people,” he says.
“And this is not about them voting with us all the time.
“Their beliefs are different to ours – and none of them is Marxist!”
Another criticism, though, has revolved around Labour's fundamental shake-up of the leadership and committee structure.
In short, it’s out with the old executive and in with a brand new policy board that makes space for the opposition leaders.
Under the new system, the body would work together on a forward plan, all aspects of which would go to scrutiny committees before heading to full council for a decision.
What’s caused an almighty uproar among the Tories and the Lib Dems, however, is that these committees will be chaired exclusively by Labour’s own councillors.
“Our group agreed a long time ago that if we introduced new methods, the Tories wouldn’t be part of it,” Coun. Davey admitted.
“The reason is that it’s my true belief that, when the Liberal Democrats were in power as a minority administration and deals were made, the Tories didn’t play the game.
“They ran a second administration through scrutiny and only scrutinised the decisions they wanted to get into the newspapers.
“It was about sensationalism and it didn’t help the people of this county.”
Indeed, under the previous Lib Dem administration, Labour only had one scrutiny chairman, Coun. Margaret Richards, who did a “good job” with the “poisoned chalice” of the health committee.
But isn’t this, then, the politics of revenge after all?
“We think it’s the politics of reality,” says Coun. Davey.
“We cannot trust the Tories one little bit.
“And what we’re doing is not about having ‘yes’ men.
“That’s not the way pre-decision scrutiny works.
“This way, every single person has a say, apart from the chairman of licensing, because of regulatory issues.”
If it’s to work – and only time will tell – the council will need efficiency as well as democracy and the Labour group would argue it’s on the right path in this area as well.
At first glance, the party’s decision to create separate roles for business chairman and civic chairman seems outright bizarre and, indeed, Coun. Jackson has raised a cynical eyebrow at this move as well, calling unsuccessfully for the take-up of the posts to be adjourned until more details are provided.
According to Coun. Davey, though, there’s a clear need for the new division as in recent years council chairmen had either been blessed with a gift for controlling meetings or for fulfilling civic duties. Never both.
“So by bringing in Scott Dickinson, of Berwick, we’re introducing a reasonably professional business chairman,” he says.
“He has chaired the county’s party meetings for several years and has got better and better, so we’re hoping he will chair the council, the chairs’ groups, ad hoc business meetings and possibly the policy board.”
Councillors Kath Nisbet and Kathy Graham, meanwhile, will be the civic chairman and deputy civic chairman – or “the floppy hat brigade”, as Coun. Davey puts it affectionately.
“They will make a really good job of it,” he says.
“Kath is extremely experienced and that will rub off on her deputy.
“You could call Kath The Master. She’s got an MBE for her work in the community and she can do it all – from kissing babies to meeting the Queen!”