Meeting documents

Thursday, 22nd November, 2012 7.30 pm

Time: 7.30pm Place: Council Chamber, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City
 PRESENT: Councillor Joan Kirby (Chairman), Councillor Jane Gray (Vice-Chairman), Councillor Mrs A.G. Ashley, Councillor Alan Bardett, Councillor D.J. Barnard, Councillor Faye Barnard, Councillor Clare Billing, Councillor David Billing, Councillor Judi Billing, Councillor John Bishop, Councillor John Booth, Councillor Tom Brindley, Councillor P.C.W. Burt, Councillor Paul Clark, Councillor Lisa Courts, Councillor Tricia Cowley, Councillor Julian Cunningham, Councillor Bill Davidson, Councillor Jean Green, Councillor Gary Grindal, Councillor John Harris, Councillor Cathryn Henry, Councillor Fiona Hill, Councillor A.F. Hunter, Councillor S.K. Jarvis, Councillor Sal Jarvis, Councillor David Kearns, Councillor Lorna Kercher, Councillor David Leal - Bennett, Councillor David Levett, Councillor Bernard Lovewell, Councillor Alan Millard, Councillor Gerald Morris, Councillor M.R.M. Muir, Councillor Mrs L.A. Needham, Councillor Mike Rice, Councillor Deborah Segalini, Councillor Mrs C.P.A. Strong, Councillor R.A.C. Thake and Councillor M.E. Weeks.
 IN ATTENDANCE: Chief Executive, Strategic Director of Finance, Policy and Governance, Acting Corporate Legal Manager (and Monitoring Officer), Democratic Services Manager and Committee and Member Services Manager.
 ALSO PRESENT: 18 members of the public.
Item Description/Resolution Status Action

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors David Chambers, T.W. Hone, Robert Inwood, I.J. Knighton, Ian Mantle, Lawrence Oliver, Deepak Sangha, R.L. Shakespeare-Smith and A.D. Young.

It was moved by Councillor Mrs L.A. Needham, seconded by Councillor Mrs C.P.A. Strong, and

RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the meeting of the Council held on 12 July 2012 be approved as a true record and signed by the Chairman.

No additional business was presented for consideration by the Council.

(1) New Councillors

The Chairman congratulated and welcomed Councillor Faye Barnard and congratulated and welcomed back Councillor Julian Cunningham following their recent by-election success.

(2) Declarations of Interest

The Chairman reminded Members that, in line with the Code of Conduct, any Declarations of Interest needed to be declared immediately prior to the item in question.

Before inviting those who had registered to speak to address the Council, the Chairman announced that Officers had circulated a submission from Philip Ross (Former Mayor of Letchworth) in respect of the Letchworth garden City Community Governance Review. Mr Ross had been unable to attend the meeting in person due to a prior engagement, but on this occasion the Chairman had allowed his submission to be taken into account by Members. However, in so doing, she made it clear that she was permitting this is a one-off, and in no way would this create a precedent for Public Participation at future meetings.

Submission by Mr Philip Ross (Former Mayor of Letchworth)

"Government says NHDC should favour creating councils, not scrapping them. When NHDC was given power to conduct reviews, the Government specifically handed supervision of the process to the courts. Judges start from the presumption that the council should be retained. NHDC should have done the same and not started a review just because 20 people asked for it.

There is no widespread support for abolition. The response is far too small to give NHDC the right to abolish it. The High Court overruled Stockport over Offerton Park parish. The judge said the silent majority must be taken to be happy with the status quo. Low turnout should ring warning bells. Just this week the Electoral Commission ordered an enquiry into low turnouts of Police Commissioners elections- based on turnouts of less than 20%.

Second - the consultation is flawed. In Offerton, the High Court said Stockport's consultation was acceptable but still overruled them. That might not be the case here. NHDC has given some people multiple votes. There is no supervision of voting and no guarantee even that some of the votes haven't come from outside Letchworth Individual members of clubs and societies have been given the same weight as residents. It wouldn't survive a judge's scrutiny. This review affects almost one third the entire area of North Herts. It's far, far more serious than Offerton which had only 2.500 residents. That point can't be stressed too much.

The law says that if 10% of the town want a governance review they can petition NHDC who must carry one out. If more than 1000 people live in the town NHDC must create a council- it has no choice. If the town council is abolished it will be recreated again in only two years' time by public petition.

This review started because 20 people asked for it. (There was no review planned for Letchworth in NHDC's work programme so it did start because of that political request). 3 of the 5 town council wards are represented by people who do want to act as councillors and they represent 47% of the vote at the last election. All elections have been contested and will be again in May 2013. The town council has not even had two terms to establish itself. There is has been no informed considered debate. Instead the review has been hi-jacked by a political group which has a political and personal dislike of another group. They are motivated by a desire to stop its opponents being elected again. That should have no place in a governance review. A governance review is a statutory process which should address itself solely to governance arrangements. A judge will agree.

NHDC also set up the town council with just 5 wards. That is against guidance from the Electoral Commission. They say wards should reflect neighbourhoods. In Letchworth they don't. Norton residents would have to win the whole Grange Ward to have a voice, for example. Jackman's would have to win the whole South East ward. A genuine governance review (i. e. one started from the presumption that the council should be retained) should have at least considered whether smaller neighbourhood based wards should be created. The debate has been poor, if it can be said to have happened at all and solely directed towards getting rid of the town council.

NHDC is an elected body. It should respect the democratic process. If the elections return another administration that wants to abolish itself NHDC might have some justification to consider some action at that point. If the elections return an active council, that is democracy. NHDC should learn to live with other democratic structures. Abolition would be wrong and the courts would agree."

The Acting Corporate Legal Manager made the following points in relation to the information provided by Mr Ross:

- In respect of the comment made in the first paragraph that Judges start from the presumption that the council should be retained, the Acting Corporate Legal Manager was not aware of this presumption. He considered that judges would make an evidence-based decision depending on the facts of each case;

- In relation to the Offerton Park Parish Council Review quoted in the second paragraph and the High Court decision to overrule the decision of Stockport Borough Council to abolish the said Parish Council, the Acting Corporate Legal Manager stated that the Court of Appeal had subsequently overruled this decision and abolished the Parish Council;

- In connection with the comment made in the second paragraph that the judge said the silent majority must be taken to be happy with the status quo, the Acting Corporate Legal Manager advised that this was incorrect - the Court had held that the Council should not conclude results from a low turnout represented the views of the majority; but that a parish could still be legally abolished following a low turnout;

- With regard to the comment in the third paragraph that the High Court said that Stockport's consultation was acceptable, but still overruled them, the Acting Corporate Legal Manager explained that this was based on Stockport Borough Council misrepresenting the consultation results; and

- In respect of the comment in the fourth paragraph that if the Town Council is abolished it will be recreated again in only two years' time by public petition, the Acting Corporate Legal Manager stated that if such a petition was received it would trigger a fresh Community Governance Review, or whatever the relevant process was at that time.

The Council was addressed by the following individuals in respect of the Letchworth Garden City Community Governance Review:

(1) Mr Anthony Burrows (Letchworth Garden City resident)

Mr Burrows advised that most parts of the District of North Hertfordshire had Town or Parish Councils, the exceptions being Baldock and Hitchin. He was opposed to the abolition of Letchworth Garden City Town Council so close to the proposed elections in May 2013, as he was involved with a group of prospective "moderate" candidates who, if elected, would maintain the annual precept at no more then £200,000 per year.

Mr Burrows stated that he was a staunch supporter of the tradition of Letchworth Garden City. He had noted a significant reduction in Town Council expenditure over the last 3 years, due of course to the stance of the elected majority on the Council to adopt a "do nothing" approach leading to eventual abolition.

Mr Burrows noted that a majority of those residents who had responded to the consultation exercise had voted for abolition, but felt that another chance should be given to the electorate to retain a Town Council, in common with most other areas of North Hertfordshire. He asked the District Council to abandon the review and allow the May 2013 elections to take place to enable the "moderates" to stand for election to the Town Council.

The Chairman thanked Mr Burrows for his presentation.

(2) Mr Mick Bee (Letchworth Garden City resident)

Mr Bee advised that, whilst he was a former Letchworth garden City Town Councillor, he was speaking as an entirely independent resident of the town.

Mr Bee drew attention to a document from a local group entitled "Save Letchworth Garden City Town Council", which was submitted to the Council in June 2012. It contained much information against abolition, with which he mostly agreed.

Mr Bee referred to the first paragraph of the officer report, which stated "to assist the Council in deciding the governance arrangements of Letchworth Garden City". He commented that nothing in the report suggested any arrangement other than abolition of a Town Council that was established legally and properly.

Mr Bee stated that, in his opinion, all discussion about the Town Council had related to the first administration, but little had been mentioned of what he considered to be the complete inadequacy of the current administration, which had been no service to the people of the town or the neighbourhood democracy sought be the Localism Act. He felt, therefore that the request for abolition was from a minority group.

Mr Bee considered that the report seemed to indicate that the first administration was unpopular, it necessitated abolition of the Town Council. He stated it was not that unpopular, as 47% of electors had voted for the its candidates in the 2009 elections. He felt that if the same review was conducted in North Hertfordshire, a significant number of residents could have reached the same conclusion about the abolition of NHDC.

Mr Bee thought that perhaps there was a very specific situation in Letchworth Garden City that required it to have no Town Council - even whilst NHDC acknowledged the legitimacy and positive democratic contribution of town and parish councils elsewhere in the District, which presumably the Council did not propose to review and abolish.

Mr Bee referred to the Localism Act, which viewed parish and town councils as a key component in delivering neighbourhood improvement. He felt that NHDC should instead be discussing how to improve Letchworth Garden City Town Council, which may take some time - the National Association of Local Councils reckoned it took 10 years before a local council became a full part of its community.

Mr Bee was of the view that the basic principle was not how much support had been garnered for abolition, it was more about democracy and the aims of the Localism Act. The fact that an administration of a Council had lost public support was not a justifiable reason for its abolition. Although he recognised that NHDC had the powers to proceed, Mr Bee did not believe that any justifiable ground had been presented for moving towards the abolition of Letchworth Garden City Town Council.

The Chairman thanked Mr Bee for his presentation.
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C

The Council considered the report of the Chief Executive in respect of the Letchworth Garden City Community Governance Review. The following appendices were submitted with the report:

Appendix A - Timetable;
Appendix B - Survey - Results and Analysis; and
Appendix C - Financial Report.

The Council was reminded that, at its meeting held on 9 February 2012, it had agreed to conduct a Community Governance Review of Letchworth Garden City, pursuant to a request to do so from the Letchworth Garden City Town Council. The District Council was required to publish the outcome of the review within 12 months of the decision to proceed.

At its meeting held on 12 July 2012, the Council was informed that, following the conclusion of an initial survey of local residents, groups and businesses, it was noted that a large majority of respondents appeared to be in favour of abolishing the Parish, with 73% (3,553) of responses indicating that the Town Council should be abolished and 61% (2,975) of responses indicating that the civil parish should be abolished.

The Council was advised that further local views had been sought on the proposals, via a questionnaire sent to all those who had formed part of the initial survey. In total, 28,296 questionnaires were despatched and 7,048 were returned, representing a return of approximately 25%. This was regarded as an acceptable level of response and was higher than the response rate to the first consultation.

The Council acknowledged that the majority of those returning questionnaires (75% - 5,358 responses) indicated support for the Council's view that the Town Council and the civil parish should be abolished. 15% (1,095) indicated "no" and 10% (685) "don't know". In addition, a petition was received by the Proper Officer on Monday, 22 October 2012 from the "Save the Garden City Campaign". It contained 49 valid signatures and one duplicate, supporting the following statements: "I do not want the existing town or Parish of Letchworth Garden City to be abolished or altered. I do not wish the Town Council to be abolished."

The Council was informed that the "Save Letchworth Garden City Council" document referred to by one of the earlier public speakers had been made available to the Council at its meeting held on 12 July 2012.

It was moved by Councillor Mrs C.P.A. Strong, seconded by Councillor Tricia Cowley and, following debate and upon being put to the vote, it was

RESOLVED: That Letchworth Town Council and the Parish arrangement be abolished with effect from 31 March 2013, subject to:

(a) those proposals being published in the local press and on the Council's website; and

(b) the final outcome of the Review being decided at the meeting of the Council, to be held in January 2013.

REASON FOR DECISION: To progress the Community Governance Review of Letchworth Garden City.

The "Living Wage"

In accordance with Standing Order 10.4(a), the following question had been submitted by Councillor David Billing to Councillor Mrs L.A. Needham (Leader of the Council):

"The "Living Wage" is currently £7.45 per hour, outside London.

Can it be confirmed that NHDC employs directly no staff at lesser rates of pay than the Living Wage?

How many staff of our contractors are paid less than the Living Wage, and which companies do this?

What actions has the Council taken or will be taking to ensure that contracts and sub-contracts include a commitment to pay at least the Living Wage?"

Councillor Mrs Needham replied that currently all permanent NHDC employees were paid at or above the level of the Living Wage, with the majority also benefiting from inclusion in the Local Government Pension Scheme and from Statutory Sick Pay. She added that it was proposed that an employee benefit package would also be included as part of the 2013/14 Council Budget. In respect of contractors appointed by the Council, whilst NHDC would encourage the use of good practice, remuneration matters were an issue for the contractors and their employees. The Council had never dictated to contractors how they operated in this regard.

Councillor David Billing asked the following supplementary question:

"How many lower paid NHDC staff were also in receipt of other benefits (eg) Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit etc.?"

Councillor Mrs Needham replied that she would endeavour to provide a written answer to Councillor David Billing.

[Note: The Acting Corporate Legal Manager advised that a written answer would only be able to be provided should the Council actually hold and be able to provide the information requested by Councillor David Billing.]

Churchgate Development, Hitchin

Due notice having been given in accordance with Standing Order 11.1, it was moved by Councillor Paul Clark, and seconded by Councillor Lisa Courts,

"That this Council notes that Simons have declared that they do not expect to be able to submit a planning application for the Churchgate development before the agreed deadline of March 2013. Council instructs the project executive to inform Simons that, based on currently available information, it is not minded to agree any extension to this deadline."

Following debate, and upon being put to the vote, the motion was lost.
Not Agreed