Sunday, 23 March 2008

An Appeal from The Panel - Have You Seen This Man?

Once again I have been forced to put pen to paper and comment on the goings on surrounding that intrepid explorer, Councillor David Potts (Cleadon and East Boldon Ward, incorporating Edinburgh for good measure).

Oh no you cry, here we go again. Perhaps, but this time it’s a case of “here we don’t go again”. Here’s a little scenario which was put to me a couple of days ago. Please read on – this one is a classic.

There exists in the South Tyneside Council sub committee structure a body called the “Appeals Panel”. Heres how the Councils web site describes its remit:

“This Panel deals mainly with appeals by individuals against housing allocation decisions and employee related appeals but it is also used to hear appeals in relation to certain other Council services. The Panel is actually a pool of Councillors from whom 3 are selected each time, to hear specific appeals, as they arise. As the appeals are always of a confidential nature they are always held in private. You will not therefore find any papers for these appeals sessions stored in this system.”

No this sounds pretty important to me, especially say if as a couple you’ve been on a housing list for a long time and feel aggrieved that you may have been missed out unfairly. The fact that the hearings are conducted in private is also an indication of the serious nature of some of these meetings.

As the preamble states, 3 councillors are chosen from a pool of 12, thereby ensuring continuing impartiality. One member from the three Chairs the Appeals Panel for that particular gathering. All three members must be present for the meeting to go ahead. So far so good. Looking at the Council’s web site, I can find no record of the Panel not being able to meet as a result of its appointed members not turning up.

That is of course until 14th March 2008. Enter one (or not as the case may be) Councillor David Potts.

At the last Appeals Panel, three Councillors’ were appointed to attend the next gathering. One of these was Mr Potts, and he was also given the additional honour of acting as Chair. Times, venues etc, were all given to the three councillors so no body was in any doubt of what was required of them. Everybody gathered on the appointed day, everybody except would you believe it, Councillor Potts. Not only was the Chair missing (in) action, but without his presence, the meeting was not a quorum and could not go ahead.

A series of frantic phone calls took place. Councillor Potts was finally located at about 10.30 a.m (the meeting began at 10.00 a.m.) Guess what, he was on a train coming back from Edinburgh. No problem, perhaps his train was just running late. Yes problem, the train was running to timetable. OK then, perhaps he would just be a little late then. Not OK, he had no intention of going to the meeting and err…..that was it. His failure to appear no doubt had nothing to do with the Conservative Spring forum being held at The Sage Gateshead, sadly at the same time as the Appeals Committee.. As we all know the Sage is very near to Newcastle Central Train Station, were trains from Edinburgh also regularly stop.

The meeting therefore had no Chair and not enough Councillor’s present to deal with the appeals that were on the agenda, including members of the public who have given up their time to present themselves to the Panel. Not to be deterred and in the interests of accountability and fair play, council officials contacted the next representative on the list, in this case Councillor Ken Hickman. With a deep sense of civic duty, he agreed to turn up. The meeting was able to go ahead, and the appeals were dealt with.

Firstly, well done Councillor Ken Hickman, at least you had the decency to acknowledge your duties as a public representative.

However, what of Councillor Potts?

Let us remind our selves of a recent sermon by said councillor which appeared in the Shields Gazette. Attacking the fact that government minister for the North East, Nick Brown, had allegedly snubbed South Tyneside, the article posed the question “where exactly is he?” A hand full of lines later Pott’s offers his own views on the situation;

Coun David Potts, leader of the Conservatives in the borough, said: "We haven't seen hide nor hair of him in South Tyneside."How dare our local Labour MPs pretend that they care for the people of South Tyneside when their own 'Minister for the North East' can't even be bothered to turn up?

Oh dear, what an own goal.

Cant be bothered to turn up, pretend that they care for the people of South Tyneside, kettle calling pot black - how dare indeed, especially when the first quote could actually apply to the Councillor himself.

So there you have it. It is now official - the trivial concerns of the public are of no concern to Councillor David Potts. His craving for self publicity matters more to him that the discharge of his public duties and representational obligations. What matters even less are the tribulations of the people of this Borough, many of whom are referred to the Appeals Panel because they have a valid grievance against the Council, particularly when it comes to housing matters – what can be more important to people than the roof (or lack of it) over their heads. There is also the problem of the concerns of his own Ward members – who is looking after there welfare when Pott’s is north of the border? Who indeed!

Councillor Potts has a particular penchant for first class rail travel; I sincerely hope that the Council is not reimbursing any of costs re his jaunts to Scotland. That would be very wrong, and I suspect it would also contravene every rule regarding councillor’s allowances. However, as somebody once said to me, Mr Pott’s relationship to the Labour hierarchy in the Borough is to close to be of a formal nature. Whether it’s close enough to see a repeat of the infamous “Cambridge” claims will all be revealed at the end of the month when Councillor expenses claims and allowances are available for public scrutiny. That’s when the diaries come out, meetings are cross referenced and journeys north are plotted on the map.

In the mean time, Councillor Pott’s continues to lead the polls when it comes to having one of the worst attendance rates for council committee meetings.

God help the people of Cleadon and East Boldon if he is re elected in May, but worse still, what will the good people of Edinburgh think of him when this type of behaviour is highlighted by Alistair Darling et al at the next general election?

No comments: