Live broadcasting has finally caught up with the Wakefield Council Chamber 82 years since the first BBC live broadcasts from Alexandra Palace and It gives people the opportunity to see what goes on in the monthly set piece council meeting. This could be good thing considering that, in 2012, the majority of people in Wakefield District did not vote in the local elections.
Of the 257,119 people who could have voted. 180,259 chose not to do so, consequently, we see a controlling group that has held power since 1974. Under the present system there is an election in three out of every four years with, effectively, the potential for only one third of the council to change each time.
People do not see the power or point of their vote so do not engage with the process. Seeing it in living technicolor may help confirm why things must change and why each vote really is important.
The council meeting that viewers will see harks back to the process that was set up in the 1970s with some amendments by the controlling group over the years.
There are very clear protocols on who may speak and typically, depending on the Mayor’s grace and favour, if you have already spoken, you may not get the chance to reply to other’s comments.
Viewers of the first meeting will see that the majority of business is set by the controlling group using their block vote.
Tune in to see the seven or so members of the controlling group declare their interest as private landlords, the executive leader’s giraffe joke, half a question; the missing bit talks about the Mid Yorks Hospital trust getting £100,000 revenue from people calling on the 0844 lines when making appointments, a vote where the controlling group pass a 321% increase in allowance for a committee chairman’s post and an interesting discussion around HS2 including a venerable councillor’s dim recollection about the Beeching report and “Conservative” railway cuts in the 1960s, when in fact he could have usefully checked who was in power through the majority of cuts.
There is a debate on the private rental sector which strays off topic because the experts, councillors who are private landlords, have left the chamber, an all too frequent item on parliamentary matters that the council has no influence on concerning the EU, the last government’s light touch banking regulation, £11.5 billion paid out in bankers’ bonuses during their watch and the Labour perspective on the economy (apparently having the shadow chancellor as a local MP does not give Wakefield enough parliamentary influence).
There is a chance to learn that Wakefield’s £550m net expenditure in 2007/8 has now reached a projected £562 million for 2013/14, despite the leader’s continual message of government reductions. Finally a consensus item about a national campaign for ex-service personnel is dropped and an opposition motion on buying local and promoting Small Business Saturdays is graciously accepted by all.
Add to this a number of polite and some not so polite insults and attacks flying about and you have an overview of a day in the life of a typical WMD council meeting.
For some this will sound all too typical, for others it will not really be what they expect their elected representatives are getting up to.
Local councillors should focus on local issues and stop wasting precious time running down the government and debating national issues which are more within the remit of local MPs.
Before casting their vote, perhaps people need to check what their local councillors will do for them. Personally I was elected to support the people in my ward on the local issues that are important to them, they give authority to the MP for the national issues.
Clearly in Wakefield we need to unlock democracy so that individuals can really hold the administration to account on the matters that are important to them and uphold the council motto “Working for you”.
Coun Geoff Walsh
Wakefield Conservative Group