KEITH ROSSITER: Open Council? Leader's too busy
A SMALL boy sneaked on to a flight to Rome this week without a passport or a ticket.
The boy mingled with families boarding the flight from Manchester Airport. Certainly he was seen, but clearly he wasn’t noticed until the Jet2 plane was airborne.
An idea has sneaked on to the Plymouth consciousness in a similar way. It is part of the city’s revised corporate plan, which will be debated at Monday’s meeting of the full city council.
Although there will be a vote, we already know that it will be approved by the Labour majority which introduced it when they revised the plan after the May elections.
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The idea is to turn Plymouth into a “Co-operative City”. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, and I’m not saying it’s a good idea. I cannot find out enough about what it will mean in practice.
And I can’t find any evidence that the council’s “partners” – police, NHS and so on – have actually bought into the idea. Perhaps they have. Certainly they need to, because without them “Co-operative” is a hollow word.
The revised Corporate Plan says:
“The Co-operative Council approach is described as being about putting people in control of their own communities and the services they receive, as well as staff having a stronger stake in how services are improved.
It is about working together co-operatively with residents, customers, partners and staff for the common good of the city. The key components of the Cooperative Council are outlined as:
Devolving power and encouraging greater community engagement.
Community ownership of assets and services.
Greater control for individuals of the services they receive.
Supporting social enterprises.
Strengthening the community/voluntary sector.
Building up community funds.
Being part of a supportive Co-operative Council Network.
Giving staff a real stake in their work.
These fine-sounding words lack detail which, as everybody knows, is where the Devil resides. For example, is “Community ownership of assets and services” what we have already, or does it essentially mean a mass re-nationalisation programme?
Is the Co-operative City just David Cameron’s Big Society by another name? Cllr Chris Penberthy, the Cabinet member for co-operatives insists not.
Is it a small idea sneaking through security, or is it Labour’s new Big Idea, complete with an electoral boarding pass?
Perhaps I shall be enlightened by the debate in Monday’s council meeting. Or perhaps not.
IF IT really is as much of a sweeping change as Labour’s election manifesto suggested, perhaps we could have had a wider debate about what it means.
After all, when Labour was in opposition they were always banging the drum for more consultation.
Perhaps they will argue that they have a mandate, but Labour only won about 44 per cent of the vote at the council elections in May – good, yet not overwhelming.
The thing about our electoral system, particularly in Plymouth, is that people cannot really vote for what they actually want. After five years of a Conservative-run council, voters would have ticked the red box even if it promised weekly forced labour for every citizen. That’s Pendulum Politics.
THERE is at least one Co-operative City measure that seems on the face of it A Good Thing. This is the plan to set up a collective to buy energy cheaply, undercutting privately run companies.
British Gas profits soared by 23 per cent in the first half of the year, so the sooner the better.
Things will start to move on this scheme in the autumn, but Cornwall is well ahead of the game already. This week Sir Tim Smit, the Eden Project’s innovative founder, launched Cornwall Together, a county-wide energy collective.
Everyone in Cornwall is now being invited to join the scheme by visiting www.cornwalltogether.com.
I AM unable to ask Cllr Penberthy about the state of play of Plymouth’s collective because he won’t return my calls. Mr Penberthy is one of several council Cabinet members, including The Leader, Cllr Tudor Evans, who refuse to speak to The Herald.
In fact, since May the Council House has begun to resemble the old-style Soviet-era Kremlin.
Which I suppose makes the Civic Centre next door the Lubyanka, which was the notorious KGB prison in Moscow. Listen out for the screams of prisoners being tortured.
I’m informed by council press officers that “The Leader is too busy to speak to you”. Too busy tweeting on Twitter about what he’s cooking for dinner or where the youngest city councillor left her “green with roses” umbrella.
The Corporate Plan adds that “Open Plymouth is our commitment to open government ....
“We will be communicating our progress in delivering our commitments and promises to the media, customers and our staff. The Co-operative Council is all about being ‘open’, working together and
putting trust in the people we serve.”
Perhaps The Leader simply doesn’t trust his Cabinet members.