Sorry, been out at Reading today, a good five hours round trip on the motorbike, once the traffic misery has been taken into account. Without the bike, I suspect I would still be stuck in the endless queue on the M25.
I haven't had a chance to comment on last night's council meeting and others have already beaten me to it. There was an 'energetic' debate over the 'Scrutiny' function - see below and a great deal more besides.
Before I go out again and for anyone with a constituent interest in Westgate, I've been placed on the licensing board, governance & audit committee and joint transportation board, and Cllr Goodwin is on planning and licensing.
Now here's the 'official' communication on the future of the scrutiny function at the council, which ruffled more than a few opposition feathers last night:
Thanet District Council has operated a scrutiny function since May 1999, where scrutiny panels examine the decisions taken by the Cabinet, investigate the key issues that affect Thanet and make recommendations for improvements.
Since then, progress assessments by the Audit Commission have found that the scrutiny process in Thanet does not provide strong and effective scrutiny and challenge to the Cabinet. In 2005, it was described as being "underdeveloped" and "still seen within the Council as adversarial and political, and its policy development role, except in finance is ineffective." A follow-up assessment a year later described scrutiny performance as continuing "to be variable overall, though with some improvement in its approach to financial decisions."
In light of these comments, Members were last night asked to consider the future of scrutiny arrangements at Thanet District Council and it was decided that in future, there would be one panel, chaired by Cllr. Bob Bayford.
Cllr. Martin Wise, Cabinet Member for Finance, Improvement and Customer Services, said: "We are determined to run an efficient and effective council for residents in Thanet and part of that is ensuring that scrutiny is working as effectively as possible. Scrutiny can play a very strong role in helping to improve the value for money that we provide to our residents. Officers have been looking at how scrutiny works in other councils across the country and having a single panel, chaired by a member of the ruling group, works well in a number of other areas, which is why we have decided to follow this model."
Cllr. Bob Bayford, Chairman of Scrutiny, said: "Over the past eight years, scrutiny has been led by the opposition group in Thanet. During that time, it has stuggled to be an effective scrutiny and overview function, which is essential for any council. It's clear that the time has come for a different approach and that's why the Scrutiny Panel will now be chaired by a member of the ruling group. That shouldn't present a problem, as the scrutiny function was designed to be non-political. In taking on that role, I firmly believe that you don't have to be a member of an opposition party to challenge what the Council is doing, but it's also important to remember that scrutiny is about more than that. It's about helping to inform policy and decision making."
Ed: I hope that makes it a little clearer but I'm sure there's an alternate version of events in circulation. By the way, I note - thank you Michael Child - that the link to councillor information from the TDC website appears to be inoperative. I will try and discover why next week.
And before I forget, Last night's Annual Council meeting saw Cllr. Sandy Ezekiel re-elected as the Leader of the Council for the fifth year with Cllr. Roger Latchford as his Deputy. Cllr Latchford will also take the Cabinet portfolio of Economy and Culture, which covers such areas as planning, the Port of Ramsgate, Ramsgate Royal Harbour Marina, tourism and culture and events.
The remainder of the Cabinet for the next Council year is:
Cllr. Shirley Tomlinson - Commercial and Environmental Services (including street cleaning, waste and recycling, grounds maintenance, beaches, environmental enforcement)
Cllr. Chris Wells Safer Neighbourhoods (community safety)
Cllr. Zita Wiltshire Housing (including Council housing, - homelessness, Renewal Area and private sector housing)
Cllr. Jo Gideon Health and Communities (including leisure services, sport)
Cllr. Martin Wise Finance, Improvement and Customer Services