iFAQs: Public Questions

Revised 16 Oct: Included late response from Cllr Vince Maple, and explanation for lack of responses from Cllr Dan McDonald.

Medway Council are planning to curb the number and type of public questions that they need to answer at public meetings. We’ve covered the situation fairly extensively previously.

During the last meeting, the Cllr Mackness, who is the portfolio holder in charge of this matter, stated that public questions weren’t as important as there were various ways to contact a councillor, specifically highlighting email.

As a result of this claim, we decided to email every single councillor in Medway with some questions about, well, public questions. We emailed every councillor on September 6, informing them that they had until September 21, a little over two weeks to respond. We’ll be analysing the full outcome in a future post, but for now, their full answers are presented below:

  • At the October Full council meeting, the Cabinet Member for Corporate services will be making recommendations regarding questions to the council.
    How do you intend to vote on the recommendation which includes the following motions?
    b.      Removal of a facility for second and supplementary questions.
    c.       Limiting any person, organisation or Member to no more than one question at each Council meeting.
    d.      Discontinuation of the practice of allowing substitutes to ask questions if a questioner cannot be present with a written answer to be supplied after the meeting instead.

The first part of your question, I am not at liberty to answer and you may find that the same for most councillors.  This is due to attending a discussion on a subject not pre-disposed, which is against the democratic process (I am aware that political groups have decided how they will vote prior to the meeting through group whips).  The use of Whips is undemocratic in itself as they breach every level of code of conduct going as they are used to persuade there members how to vote, when apparently they represent there constituents..
As an independent, I have the luxury of listening to a debate (and taking part if I can assist) prior to making a vote
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind)

Yes, I do intend to support the Conservative group regarding questions. I understand both sides of the argument but believe this will provide an opportunity for more people to take part.  Frankly it is just one tiny part of the way we listen to residents as everyone who understands the council will know. Anyone can easily contact me directly by phone, email or by letter. I normally respond immediately and I will always meet if that is what they prefer. Personally I think surgery is a bit outdated these days and I prefer to arrange meetings at a time that suits the resident and then give them as much time as they need.
Similarly, if residents prefer than can contact any cabinet member directly or even the leader. Speaking in full council can be very intimidating for most people, and I suspect in some cases it is more likely to attract those who like a big audience and the chance of press coverage.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

b. Do not agree
c. Do not agree
d. Do not agree
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

I am not sure how I will vote yet.
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)

Voting against all because Labour proposed the motion to stop this in the first place
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)

b. Voted against
c. Voted against
d. Voted against
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)

I intend to oppose all the measures which are proposed to limit the rights of Members, and members of the public, to participate in council meetings.  I intend to vote against all these measures.
Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)

As you know, occasionally the high volume of public questions received for full Council meetings means it is not always possible to deal with them all in the thirty minutes allowed for public questions. It therefore seems wholly reasonable to try and address this democratic shortcoming, despite the criticism it may bring from a vocal minority e.g. opposition councillors and your own organisation.
The public rightly ask questions of councillors at all times, at meetings, via correspondence and on the phone. The opportunity to do so at full council is part of this right but I am sure any right minded person would agree that it is reasonable to ensure such rights have some limitations i.e. questions should not be repeatedly hijacked by a minority, should not unduly impact on the efficient and sensible running of Council business nor cause unnecessary delay and inefficiency.

I have considered the proposed changes carefully. The fact that 30 minutes for public questioning (as is the case at present) will be maintained under the proposed changes and that anyone who has not received a response within the time limits will receive a full written reply after the full council meeting, means that I would support these proposals as things stand.
I am very keen to ensure public questions are opened to a greater number and wider variety of local residents and the changes proposed appear to be an effective way of achieving this.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

b. AGAINST
c. AGAINST
d. AGAINST
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

As all Councillors should I will listen to the debate and vote as I think best.
Cllr David Wildey (Con)

I WOULD NEED TO SEE THE ACTUAL AGENDA WORDING FIRST HOWEVER ASSUMING THAT IT FOLLOWS WHAT IS WRITTEN HERE, I WOULD BE VOTING:
b. IN PRINCIPLE FOR
c. IN PRINCIPLE FOR (A QUESTION ABOUT INTERPRETATION OF AN “ORGANISATION” THOUGH?)
d. IN PRINCIPLE FOR
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

For
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 12 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr John Avey (Con), Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab), Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con), Cllr John Williams (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

My position on this is well documented – our full position will be clear on the evening of the 15th
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

  • It has been suggested that these changes will not affect the democratic process because Councillors are available for surgeries and via email.
    Can you confirm your surgery details, as taken from the council website, are accurate?
    [ individual details inserted ]
    Can you confirm, through reply, that your email address, as taken from the council website, is valid?
    [ individual details inserted ]

I can confirm that I do hold surgeries every Wednesday between 10am and 12 noon at St Francis of Assisi church as per council website.
Cllr John Avey (Con)

I have now set up ward surgeries at Strood Community Hub on the second Saturday of the month starting this Saturday 10.00am to 12.00pm.  My email address is correct.
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind)

Yes my contact details on the web site are correct, but I think the picture was taken when I was much older!
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

yes
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

Yes, these are the accurate surgery details and my email is correct.
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)

We no longer have the Maidstone Road surgery as it was unpopular,the Delce is correct we also do street by street surgeries where residents are notified in advance that we are coming and asked to display a “stop here” leaflet in their window on the day if they don’t want to just look out for us.
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)

These were accurate. I am currently liaising with Chatham Central colleagues on new dates due to the opening shortly of the All Saints Project. Once dates are confirmed here a new set of dates will be released for Luton Library.
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)

Many Thanks for your email, especially in relation to the council website and my surgery details. I will get this updated asap. However, as you do point out my email address is on the web site and my details are also published in Medway Matters, so my constituents can contact me if they so wish.
Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con)

I will update the website and surgery details if needed ASAP.
I can confirm my email is correct.
Cllr John Williams (Con)

Gillingham councillors hold a street surgery in Gillingham High Street on the first Saturday of each month.
The email address you have is the correct one.
Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)

With regard to your list of questions about my contact details, these are correctly listed on the Medway Council web site.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

NO LONGER  TAKES PLACE
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

CORRECT
CORRECT
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

Surgery details are in the process of being updated on the website. They should be up in the next few days.
Correct
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 14 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con)Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab), Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con), Cllr David Wildey (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

That is correct although it will be changing very shortly to move to a new venue of the Magpie Centre and will be held on a Saturday Morning.  Roving Surgeries will continue.
Correct
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

  • What is an acceptable turn around time for a resident to wait for a response to an email?

it is dependent on the question, some can be turned around in a few days, most by 10 days, some a little longer. You also have to take into account whether the councillor  works or not.
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind).

I respond immediately – sometimes within the hour but normally in a day or 2. I have no admin support, so if away it might take longer. I have email with me all the time. I dealt with this enquiry in less than 4 hours.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

7 days
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

I try to respond to all resident emails within 5 to 7 days which I believe is reasonable
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)

I try to respond within 3 days to emails and will arrange face to face to meetings according to urgency, mainly when constituents need to show me documents or require more emotional support. These take place at Gun Wharf or the LP office depending on convenience for residents.
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)

One working day for holding email or response
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)

Personally, I send an acknowledge on receipt of an email as soon as I see it, this evening both I and my fellow ward councillor had a face to face meeting within hours of being help being requested and I always copy in my ward colleagues so that they are fully aware of anything that I’m dealing with so that they can assist or take over in my absence.
Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con)

I personally acknowledge my emails soon as I see them, face to face meetings are arranged at a time convenient to both myself and the resident.
Cllr John Williams (Con)

I respond to all emails that require a response as soon as I have read them, this is not always on the same day as receipt owing to the fact I am currently unable to check my account every day but it is usually within two or three days at most. Since first being elected four months ago I have responded to dozens of emails and general correspondence, met with a number of constituents who have requested meetings face to face, undertaken site visits and have not yet had any occasion where I have been deemed “unavailable”.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

3 DAYS
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

Your other questions all depends on the reasons residents get in touch.
Cllr David Wildey (Con)

SAME / FOLLOWING DAY FOR ACKNOWLEDGEMENT / HOLDING REPLY (UNLESS AWAY / COUNCILLOR ATTENDING EVENING MEETINGS ON A COUNCILLOR’S DAY JOB DAY), SUBSTANTIVE REPLY WILL DEPEND ON WHERE INFORMATION HAS TO BE GATHERED FROM AND RESPONSE TIME OF OFFICERS TO THOSE REQUESTS
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

1-3 days
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 13 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr John Avey (Con)Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

It varies issue to issue, some issues are very straight forward and can be answered immediately – others more complex and can take longer.
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

  • What is an acceptable response time to arrange a face to face meeting?

not sure on this still learning.  But been advised not to meet people one to one alone.
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind)

Again, the first date available to both parties. Normally less than a week. If urgent, quicker. I have been known to meet up within 30 minutes.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

7days unless urgent
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

I try and arrange face to face meetings within 2 weeks of a request
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)

I try to respond within 3 days to emails and will arrange face to face to meetings according to urgency, mainly when constituents need to show me documents or require more emotional support. These take place at Gun Wharf or the LP office depending on convenience for residents
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)

Depending on availability of member no more than two working weeks.
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)

Personally, I send an acknowledge on receipt of an email as soon as I see it, this evening both I and my fellow ward councillor had a face to face meeting within hours of being help being requested and I always copy in my ward colleagues so that they are fully aware of anything that I’m dealing with so that they can assist or take over in my absence.
Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con)

I personally acknowledge my emails soon as I see them, face to face meetings are arranged at a time convenient to both myself and the resident. I always copy in my ward  colleagues so they are aware of the work I am dealing with so they can help or take over if I am not available.
Cllr John Williams (Con)

Since first being elected four months ago I have responded to dozens of emails and general correspondence, met with a number of constituents who have requested meetings face to face, undertaken site visits and have not yet had any occasion where I have been deemed “unavailable”.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

As and when needed. I regualarly meet with  residents and will meet with them in their homes if convenient for the resident. We can also meet at Rochester and Strood CLP headquarters at 73 Maidstone Road, Rochester or in the Labour Group room at Gun Wharf
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

Your other questions all depends on the reasons residents get in touch.

Cllr David Wildey (Con)

SAME / FOLLOWING DAY TO ACKNOWLEDGE / ARRANGE (UNLESS FALLS AS NOTED ABOVE) AND A FEW DAYS FOR ACTUAL MEETING TO HAPPEN AS DEPENDENT ON WHEN CONTACTED (IE IF ON A DAY WHEN COUNCILLOR IS AT THEIR DAY JOB)
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

ASAP if convenient. If not, 5 days to a week of request.
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 13 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr John Avey (Con)Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab), Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

Sometimes diaries can be very busy through no-one’s fault but I always try and see a resident if they ask for a face to face meeting no more than two weeks after contact, and most of the time a lot sooner.  As I live in the ward, sometimes people will just knock on my door to raise an issue or concern.
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

  • If you are unavailable who would you recommend a resident speaks to?

I will always try and direct a resident to the relevant council department or officer.
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind)

Kelly Tolhurst, who is also a councillor in Rochester West, or, if appropriate, a cabinet member. Of course, they can also contact council officers direct.  If anyone was having difficulty getting hold of their councillor try contacting Democratic Services.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

I would personally recommend person to speak to who can take matter forward
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

If I am unavailable, I recommend residents address:
– other Ward Councillors
– Chairman or Vice Chair of the relevant Committee
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)
If I’m not available my ward colleague is the first port of call,for some topics I will ask the MP eg immigration.
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)
I would offer a meeting with my fellow ward Councillors’ Sam Craven and Mike Franklin should I not be available but this is extremely rare. If the issue is related to non-council related business; welfare assessment, immigration appeals, I would refer to MPs office.
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)
Personally, I send an acknowledge on receipt of an email as soon as I see it, this evening both I and my fellow ward councillor had a face to face meeting within hours of being help being requested and I always copy in my ward colleagues so that they are fully aware of anything that I’m dealing with so that they can assist or take over in my absence.
Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con)

I always copy in my ward  colleagues so they are aware of the work I am dealing with so they can help or take over if I am not available.
Cllr John Williams (Con)

Since first being elected four months ago I have responded to dozens of emails and general correspondence, met with a number of constituents who have requested meetings face to face, undertaken site visits and have not yet had any occasion where I have been deemed “unavailable”.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

Cllr Teresa Murray, my ward colleague
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

Your other questions all depends on the reasons residents get in touch.

Cllr David Wildey (Con)

FELLOW WARD COLLEAGUES, THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION INCLUDED IN MY EMAIL SIGNATURE BLOCK
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

Wendy Purdy
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 13 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr John Avey (Con)Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab), Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

If it is an issue in Chatham Central then my two colleagues Paul Godiwn or Julie Shaw, if someone is contacting me as Labour Leader then either Teresa in her role as Deputy Leader or the relevant Labour Spokesperson.
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

We received answers from, on average, less than a quarter of councillors to each questions, and even some that did reply barely answered the questions asked. We’ll be analysing the answers we did receive, along with those that we didn’t, in a second post tomorrow.

Neil4Corbyn

The Green Party candidate for Gillingham & Rainham at the last general election, Neil Williams, has defected to the Labour Party. Williams cited Jeremy Corbyn’s recent victory as the main motivation for his decision.

Williams, who presumably only a few weeks ago didn’t ‘support the aims and values of the Labour Party’, hasn’t always been quite so happy with the way the party does things:

Still, it’s all happy families now, with Medway Labour leader Cllr Vince Maple saying “it is great to welcome Neil to the Labour Party”.

Medway Labour have apparently seen a surge in membership over the past few weeks, presumably inspired by Jeremy Corbyn. It’ll be interesting to see how well these new members manage to work with the more traditional members of the party, and if any other candidates from the Greens or TUSC decide to make the jump to the party.

Added 25 September:
Of course, we’ve been here before, and that didn’t exactly go well.

Toll Hurts Kelly’s Constituents

Recent readers of the Medway Messenger (August 7) may have been shocked to read that newly elected Member of Parliament for Rochester & Strood, Councillor Kelly Tolhurst, was being stopped from doing her bit to help out the local community:

A group of business people set up to improve Rochester will lose out on tens thousands of pounds due to financial red tape.

Kelly Tolhurst wanted to donate her council allowances to the Rochester Town Centre Forum after she became MP for Rochester and Strood and also held onto her council seat in Rochester West in May.

Of course, a councillor choosing to donate their allowance to a good cause is a noble endeavour. So what “financial red tape” was stopping Kelly from donating her council allowance to the Town Centre Forum?

Tax law.

Because council allowances are paid directly to councillors, they are taxed like any other income. Just like they would be if you or I or anyone else decided to donate some money to a good cause. You pay tax, and then you can do what you like with whatever is left. Apparently this is an outrage to the esteemed Member of Parliament though.

The numbers

Rochester Town Centre Forum claims to currently have around £2,000 per year, that it mostly spends on Christmas lights.

Kelly Tolhurst wanted to donate her full council allowance of £8,730, which would have given the Forum £10,730.

Having to pay income tax, like the rest of us, would result in Cllr Tolhurst “only” being able to donate £5,238 to the Forum, leaving them with a measly £7,238.

As this would only be a mere 262% increase for the Forum, Rochester West’s Councillor has decided not to bother donating the money, and as such it will remain in the council account for no particular purpose.

If Cllr Tolhurst had followed through on this donation over her four year term, the Forum would have received nearly £21,000 in additional funds. But this won’t happen, all so she can avoid paying some tax.

The beneficiary

Although it’s rather moot at this stage, it is rather curious that Tolhurst would select the Rochester Town Centre Forum as her intended beneficiary. While any town centre can always use additional funds, her constituency also contains Strood town centre, Cuxton, Halling, and the villages of the peninsula. Surely any of these centres would benefit as much as, if not far more than, the town centre of Rochester.

The solutions

It would appear that rather than grandstanding on this issue, if they really did want to support the town centres of her constituency, there are a number of possible solutions:

The most logical would be to accept the council allowance, pay the legally required tax, and donate the remaining £21,000 to either Rochester Town Centre Forum or between the town centres in her constituency. After all, this money is urgently needed:

“The High Street Forum are working on projects around promotion, increasing footfall and tidying up the high street but there’s no money left to do any initiatives.

They are working on starting a Saturday artisan market and this money would have helped.”

With this being the case, there is a larger gesture that Tolhurst could make: Replace the £3,492 per year that is lost to tax with a donation from her parliamentary salary.

After all, MPs were recently given a raise of £5,588. Tolhurst could make up the figure lost, provide a nice boost to the town centres, and still be left with a yearly salary in excess of £70,000.

What do you say Kelly?

First They Came For The Supplementary Questions..

It might come as a surprise, but Medway Council meetings are fairly lively affairs compared to some councils. A turnout of 50 people in the public gallery is hardly unheard of (though few last to the end!), public questions will often overrun their allotted time, and it’s not unusual for the council to receive heckling, jeering, or other forms of protest. It’s those last couple of points that are most relevant here, as the council has decided it’s had enough of those pesky members of the public who want to ask questions.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get an answer out of your local councillor, but it can be a pretty trying exercise. Granted, if you want them to come and cut the ribbon at your fete, they’ll be there double quick, but if you actually have questions, things get tricky. Email or tweet them and you’ll likely get no response. Attend one of their occasional ‘surgeries’ and you’ll almost certainly get a non-committed, evasive, if polite, response to your concerns. One of the few ways to publicly make a point to a councillor is at one of the six public meetings of Medway Council that take place each year.

As it stands, any resident of Medway can submit a question to the council, and as long as it’s somewhat relevant to the authority, a response has to be given. Any person can submit multiple questions (though those with one take priority over a second etc.), and a substitute can ask the question at the meeting if you can’t attend due to work or ill-health or the such. Most importantly, after asking your question and getting a response, you’re allowed a ‘short, supplementary question’. While the first question can have a carefully prepared answer, the councillor will not know what the supplementary question will contain, so it’s the one time they won’t always be speaking in the boring shared voice of the council.

All of which means the administration has had more than enough of this kind of challenging behaviour.

Council questions

This recommendation will be put to the council this Wednesday, following absolutely no consultation whatsoever. It’s vague, it’s heavy handed, and it’s a borderline affront to democracy. You can read the full report on the changes here.

There is certainly a place for limited reform of public questions. The rule limiting answers to three minutes is sensible, if only for the sake of Cllr Chitty’s incredible ability to go on and on and on and on in response to questions. There’s even a case to be made for limiting each member of the public to one question. The council is often faced with large numbers of questions covering the same topic worded in different ways, and so a compromise could be found there.

Where it all falls apart is the removing of the supplementary question. As mentioned earlier, this has been a long-standing method of asking a councillor a proper question, and it’s removal is deeply worrying for the way that Medway Council would like to conduct business. Removing substitutes has no real practical purpose at all other than to limit the number of questions that can be asked. More concerning is vague rule of limiting any ‘organisation’ one question per meeting. In three years of attending these meetings, I’ve never seen a question come from an organisation, only members of the public. Unless the council is going to get into the very dangerous business of defining questions from members of political parties as such.

One legitimate complaint that some have with public questions is that opposition parties have their members submit questions that challenge the council to make a political point. All parties do this to a certain extent (with the exception of UKIP who were never that organised) – Labour are masters of the craft, the Lib Dems manage a few questions at every meeting, and even the Tories do so when they need an easy political point or to raise awareness of potential future councillors. It’s a bit of a crap way to do things, but it does still raise legitimate political issues, and is often the only route a smaller party will have to gain any attention for their issues. From the text set out in the report above, it wouldn’t be entirely impossible for the administration to deem swathes of questions as being from a single political organisation, and thus rejecting them en masse. There’s no suggestion that this is the council’s intent, but the fact it can’t be ruled out from the document demonstrates how sloppily this idea has been put together.

The reaction from the Medway Twitterati has been fierce, with members of Labour, UKIP, the Lib Dems, and ordinary members of the public lining up to condemn the move.

https://twitter.com/RC_Garrick/status/628588853167788033

https://twitter.com/ci247/status/628591199314649088

https://twitter.com/jerijerod14/status/628594989036109824

There’s little doubt that these limits to public democratic discourse will be adopted by the council – the ruling Tories hold a substantial majority which allows them full control over all scrutiny and decision-making, and there’s little incentive to face public questions when the average person takes little notice of these things. But an important part of the democratic process is being chipped away, and if they get away with this part unnoticed, who knows what will be the next thing to go?

Jennings

So, farewell then..

So, farewell then to no less than 20 Medway councillors.

Between councillors losing their seats, retirements, and deselections, over a third of councillors who were in office two weeks ago no longer are. I thought it’d be nice to take a look at those who will no longer be gracing the council chamber. Consider this like the ‘in memoriam’ section at the Oscars, just without the glitz, glamour, and likeable personalities.

The Stand Downs

This is the group that didn’t even try to fight their seat. Some quietly slipped into retirement, either through their own volition, or their party deciding for them. Others went on to better things.

Ted Baker (Rochester West, Con) – One of the longest serving members of the council, it’s been clear for some time that his reign has been coming to an end. He was giving a nice send off at his final council meeting, and will be awarded an honorary title on the council in recognition of his service.

Matt Bright (Princes Park, Con) – Cllr Bright not fighting his seat was a curious one. One of the younger members of the Conservative group, in a relatively safe seat, who never rebelled against his party in the chamber, he should have been a rising star. Alas, it was not to be.

David Colman (Gillingham South, Lab) – The Man Who Never Planned To Be A Councillor. The legend goes that at the last elections, Cllr Colman was merely a paper candidate, who was never supposed to win, but the collapse of the Lib Dem vote in Gillingham South saw him home. He served out his term, but seem to do very little during this time, and his replacements should be far more effective for the party.

Jane Etheridge (Strood North, Con) – Cllr Etheridge was widely liked but not necessarily the most forceful voice in the chamber. That all changed at her final council meeting though, where she made it adamantly clear to the discomfort of her colleagues that she was not stepping down of her own accord, and her party had deselected her.

Paul Harriott (Twydall, Lab) – Cllr Harriott has been a councillor in Medway for a couple more decades than I’ve been alive. After 52 years, he decided to call it a day, and he remained a force in the chamber right up to the end. Like Cllr Baker, he will be given an honorary title from the council to salute his remarkable council career.

Craig Mackinley (River, Con) – Left Medway, went to stand for Parliament in South Thanet, and became the almighty Farage slayer. (What’s a South Thanet? – Keevil)

Ray Maisey (Cuxton & Halling, Con) – I genuinely don’t think I know anything about Cllr Maisey. He rarely seemed to speak, and when he did, it was fairly unremarkable. (I never even heard him speak. – Keevil)

Tony Watson (Peninsula, Con) – One of the younger, more thoughtful members of the Conservative group. It’s unclear exactly why he didn’t stand again, but it’s worth noting that he was the only Conservative Councillor to vote against his group, standing up in favour of equal marriage, in a vote in the chamber some time back. Rebellions are so rare his is the only one I can remember during the past few years, and now he isn’t a Councillor. Not that I’m suggesting there’s a connection or anything. (Well done for clarifying that. – Keevil)

The Losers

Slightly harsh perhaps (accurate – Keevil), but these are the Councillors that tried to maintain a seat, but couldn’t manage it. Some were unexpected, some less so. Interestingly, every Councillor who recently switched parties, or tried to change the seats they stood in, lost. So if you become a Councillor, you should never, ever take any risks apparently.

Christine Godwin (Luton & Wayfield, Lab, lost by 70 votes) – One of the upsets of the night, as the Tories managed to take a seat in Luton & Wayfield, nearly taking down parliamentary candidate Tristan Osborne at the same time. Instead though, Cllr Godwin ended up as the casualty, after only one term on the council.

Patricia Gulvin (Princes Park, tried to fight Chatham Central, Con) – It seems that Gulvin intended to stand down regardless, as she moved from the relatively safe seat of Princes Park to the Socialist Republic of Maple. She did fairly well in that seat, but still didn’t really trouble the counting agents.

Vaughan Hewett (Rainham North, UKIP, lost by 765 votes) – An unfortunate tactical error for Cllr Hewett, who after leaving the Conservative group last year, decided to throw his lot in with UKIP. I suspect that isn’t where his allegiances truly lay, and he didn’t get the support he needed, so he lost by a large margin. A shame as he was one of the more reasonable voices on the council.

Stephen Hubbard (Strood North, Lab, lost by 297 votes) – A decent local Councillor taken out by the rising Conservative tide. Hanging on in a split ward is always a challenge, and Cllr Hubbard bore the brunt of the national swings.

Isaac Igwe (Strood South, Lab, lost by 627 votes) – The man who famously hid in the toilet purely to avoid having to vote on equal marriage lost his seat. No tears will be shed.

Josie Iles (Strood South, Con, lost by 118 votes) – The UKIP march on Strood meant that while the Conservatives were able to win one seat in Strood South, they couldn’t win them all. Unfortunately for Cllr Iles, her record has a local councillor wasn’t strong enough to see her hang on.

Chris Irvine (Peninsula, tried to fight Rochester East, UKIP) – One of the more baffling decisions of the election was that of UKIP group leader Cllr Irvine to give up a safe seat in Peninsula to fight Rochester East. He attests that this was the right thing to do as it’s the ward he actually lives in, and that’s very noble, but it does mean the likely collapse of the UKIP group on the council, and a valuable, if antagonistic, voice being lost from the chamber.

Geoff Juby (Gillingham South, Lib Dem, lost by 1006 votes) – A crushing defeat for long time Lib Dem group leader Cllr Juby, who saw his party pushed into fourth place in the ward. While his meandering style in the chamber wasn’t the most exciting, it’s a shame to see all representation of the Lib Dems being lost from Medway Council.

Sheila Kearney (Gillingham South, tried to fight Twydall, Lib Dem) – Cllr Kearney has been in poor health for some time now, and it was clear to all observers that her candidacy in Twydall was purely to make up the (small) Lib Dem numbers.

Tom Mason (Strood Rural, UKIP, lost by 262 votes) – Another UKIP defector that almost hung on, but was pulled down by the Conservative surge. Mason only seemed to go UKIP after his Conservative association deselected him, and while he almost hung on, the Conservative surge pulled him down.

Peter Rodberg (Strood Rural, UKIP, lost by 443 votes) – See Tom Mason.

Diana Smith (Watling, Lib Dem, lost by 452 votes) – It’s previously been joked that Cllr Smith could stand under any party banner and easily win, such is her local popularity. While that did see her through previous elections, and she was still the best performing Medway Lib Dem by some margin, it wasn’t enough for her to hang on. Her abstaining on important issues will be sorely missed.

20 councillors gone means 20 new councillors in their place. What will they bring us? We’ll be finding out soon enough..