Councillor Pook, Chairman of EDDC’s Asset Management group was given a rough ride in Seaton this afternoon, according to this report from a correspondent:
Cllr Pook Needs Longer Spoon
Cllr Geoff Pook, the only “Independent” on East Devon District Council to refuse to work with the recently strengthened Independent group has been rewarded for this with a seat on the Cabinet by Paul Diviani and his non-whipping bulldog, Councillir Phil Twiss.
But almost immediately Cllr Pook has realised that the temperature under his own cabinet seat has been turned up to boiling point. For reasons best known to himself, Beer councillor Pook has it in his head to lead the charge to offer the district’s beach huts to the highest bidders, a policy his East Devon Tory playmates did not dare put in their manifesto this May.
At Seaton this afternoon, more than a hundred and fifty worried locals gathered to hear him explain himself, with Seaton’s own district councillor, Jim Knight, looking on in silence.
Pook initially made an attempt to defend the ridiculously loaded “survey” on beach huts to the gathering, switching as fast as he then could to a George Osborne-style line that East Devon District Council need to save more than two million pounds in the next four years. Beach huts would not be the only casualty to the Tory cutbacks, he said, but if an auction was not agreed his new chums would find another way to get “best value” from them.
Seaton folk are no fools and asked for some hard financial data on all this. This, said Pook “was being prepared”. The usual EDDC cart-before-horse strategic style.
It was obvious to anyone who has seen EDDC in action that Pook & Co will try to drive this through various committees before bringing it before his Cabinet in early Autumn. By then, without his being defeated by public action, it will be too late, and non-whipmeister Cllr Twiss will be growling from his enforcer’s seat to make sure at Full Council that any waverers on the Tory side put their hands up at the right time.
Meanwhile, back in Seaton, Pook finally realised that his uncosted, ill-considered scheme was being roundly booed by the usually very polite people in the room.. So he waffled that he had only just taken over as chair of EDDC’s Asset Management Committee, but nobody was buying his “I am only obeying orders” defence. The Asset Management committee is one of the most notoriously secretive of all the many hole-in-the-wall arms of the dismal district council. Still, at least none of his Beer constituents can say he is going against his election manifesto. Nobody voted for him; he was unopposed.
What next? Many in the room felt that one answer would be to provide even more beach huts if there is such a waiting list. Another idea is that the town councils take on the beach huts themselves – but be very, very careful with this one. How long before a town council, in Beer perhaps, “struggles” and sells the whole operation off to the private sector ….
Ah, how I dream that the Asset Management meetings were actually a Committee – as indeed it really should be.
Committees are subject to legal transparency requirements – they need to be open to the public, they need to have published agendas and minutes.
But in its infinite wisdom – or as I call it hypocrisy – the council leadership have decided that the group of people who will manage the councils assets with meet in a Forum rather than a Committee, because then they don’t need to allow the public to be at the meetings and don’t need to publish agendas and minutes.
See if you can find Asset Management on the council meetings web page http://eastdevon.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/committees-and-meetings/ . But if you look here http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/1135156/mtg-prog-201516-matrix.pdf you can see the dates for the Asset Management meetings.
But if you read the EDDC Constitution which can be found at http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/471200/constitution-2014-october-.pdf (something that the council leadership apparently doesn’t bother to do), then on page 31 it states “A Panel or Forum will normally sit in public.” (It also states “They will be an important vehicle for ensuring the involvement of the community in policy development and review”, so it is difficult to see how a closed meeting without published agendas or minutes meets this objective.)
Indeed, since it is not a committee, they don’t need to make the Asset Management Forum membership proportional to the number of councillors in each political group either. According to the minutes of the annual council in May 2015 which can be found at http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/1154227/annual-council-270515-combined-mins-with-apps.pdf on page 16 it says that the full members of this Forum are Andrew Moulding (Con.), Phil Skinner (Con.), Ian Thomas (Con.), Geoff Pook (Ind. come Con.), with Paul Diviani (Con.) and Stuart Hughes (Con.) as ex-officio members. So, despite holding 25% of the seats, there are no Independent Group councillors on this Forum at all.
Turning the Asset Management Forum into a formal Committee was a stated Aim of the East Devon Alliance candidates, and I imagine is still an objective if they can ever achieve it.
Is it any wonder that the more informed residents of East Devon think that there is a need for a fresh start at EDDC?