View from the Council Chamber
Josh Fenton-Glynn, one of Hebden Bridge's 3 Calderdale councillors, gives a personal report of Wednesday's council meeting
Friday, 19 July 2019
On Wednesday we had a meeting of Calderdale council’s full council, and I thought I'd take a couple of minutes to let you know how it went.
We started with announcements including the rather sad news that Olwyn Jennings, former mayor of Calderdale and of Todmorden, passed away recently. A hard working well-liked member of her community. She will be missed.
Children's Services "outstanding"
We had a happier announcement from the chief executive that our children's services has been found good with outstanding characteristics and we have in particular been highlighted as a national good example.
We then moved on to petitions to full council, the first petition was presented by councillor Sarah Courtney who presented a petition signed by almost 1000 residents on use of glyphosate. This petition was started in April and builds on the work of a lot of people in our community. Indeed my ward colleague Dave Young first brought this matter to scrutiny panel in 2015.
Air quality action plan
We then introduced our air quality action plan, something which was delayed in a previous meeting when both opposition parties opposed it.
Depressingly both opposition leaders spoke against this plan and their parties voted against it without offering an amendment - just complaining about it without solutions. This is a working document and our climate change committee will be continuing to work to strengthen it. But it would enable us to take crucial steps forward would to make Hipperholme, Brighouse and Sowerby Bridge action areas for improvement.
The reason the leader of the Liberal Democrats gave to oppose it was no mention of wood burning stoves. It does in fact mention them, but even after having that pointed out, he still voted against it. I am strongly in favour of responsible opposition but unfortunately the criticism and voting against without proposals was very disappointing. Luckily we got the motion through and can get work done on local areas including Brighouse, Hipperholme and Sowerby Bridge rather than delay that any further.
We then went through the normally formal process of approving new chairs for committees. All were voted for unopposed apart from the appointment of Councillor Holden as vice-chair of Licensing who a number of the Conservatives opposed without giving reasons (e is a former Conservative councillor who left on a matter of conscience - can't imagine it was sour grapes). Rob is a good guy who will I think will do an honest job in the role.
We then moved to questions for our cabinet members. Councillor Scullian talked about our new staff member, the rough sleeper navigator who has been working with rough sleepers and helping to find secure places for them to sleep and helping them to access services.
Northern Rail promises
Councillor Barns asked an important question about Northern Rail’s ongoing failure to follow up on promises they've made. There was a strong feeling that not enough has been done.
Avoiding children being taken into care
Councillor Cavanagh asked about early intervention to avoid children being taken in to care, specifically our project offering support for pregnant women who have previously had children taken into care which will have its specific funding will come to an end despite the effectiveness of this work. Councillor Wilkinson confirmed he is looking at how we can replicate the funding. It's vital and important work and I hope we can find a way to continue to support it. It is this kind of funding that continued local government austerity puts at risk.
Letter to new Prime Minister
I asked about the letter that we traditionally write to a new prime minister. I have recently come under criticism for working too much on flooding by the leader of the opposition, but as chair of the flooding scrutiny board, I make no apology for asking they include proposed flood defence funding in the letter. I also asked for the letter to raise the disgraceful mismanagement of Northern Rail, the adult social care green paper delayed since April 2017, the impact of cuts and the need to tackle climate change.
Other questions included ones on our anti-poverty strategy and our success in SEND education and a number of questions on highways. Indeed I think highways was the only issues Conservatives asked about (taking up half the question time) which I assume was coordinated. We do have some issues with the responsiveness of that team which is why we are currently reviewing it, but the Conservatives know we are doing that so it seemed an odd choice.
We then moved to the motions. The first was a motion proposed by the Liberal Democrats on reducing the use of Glyphosate herbicides in Calderdale. This is in fact something that Calderdale have been working on for some time, started by Councillor Dave Young in 2015 in one of his scrutiny roles. The chemical has a negative impact on biodiversity, bees and potentially has health impacts. Labour offered an amendment which looked to welcome the work that's been done and the fact we had already intended to do it. The motion amended was passed with opposition from the Conservatives.
Motor Neurone Disease Charter
The next motion was asking Calderdale to support the Motor Neurone Disease Charter, councillor Stephen Baines spoke powerfully about his step son who is suffering from MND. He paid tribute to the work of Calderdale's officers in caring for his son and asked that we worked with all agencies to ensure people get the care they need. This was widely supported and a number of people spoke personally and powerfully on the issue. It was passed unanimously.
The right to work for asylum seekers
The next motion was on the campaign to give people seeking asylum the right to work while they are waiting for a decision. People waiting for asylum decisions have to live on £5.38 a day. Government estimates is it could lead to £42 million economic benefit a year. For many, being without work also means being without dignity, it has mental health and other impacts. People in poverty are open to exploitation and poor treatment and being forced into into the darker parts of the economy.
I spoke in favour of this motion. I remember when I worked for Oxfam in 2009 I wrote on this subject, inspired by meeting a woman who was a nurse from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who did all the voluntary work she could and said she wanted to contribute to say thank you to all those who helped her. I think we judge a society on how it treats its most vulnerable, and am appalled when I look across the Atlantic to parents and children being separated and demagogued against. I want us to be a country who takes its moral responsibilities seriously. Although no Conservatives spoke on this motion, we had to endure some really quite despicable heckling from them during the debate. The motion was then passed with the Conservatives abstaining.
To celebrate Pride month Cllr Courtney gave out Happy Valley Pride badges at the start of the meeting. I was pleased to see most councillors from all sides of the chamber wearing them.