Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Council meetings continue and can be viewed in real time or as a video record, as this recording of HBC Cabinet’s virtual meeting on 1 September shows. But there have been no full council meetings since before lockdown in March.

HBC rebuts Lee’s claims over failure of full council to meet

The Labour leadership of Hastings Borough Council has rebutted criticisms from Cllr Rob Lee, leader of the Conservative group, of its failure to hold a meeting of the full council since March. Nick Terdre reports.

Cllr Rob Lee is critical of HBC’s failure to hold a meeting of the full council since before the lockdown began in March. “They couldn’t seem to get the technology to work over the summer so I agreed to have the July meeting replaced by a meeting in September,” he said. “They now say they can’t do that either.

“It is very much beginning to look like the Labour leadership of Hastings Borough Council are avoiding scrutiny, which is not a surprise given their poor record so far.

“I call upon the Labour leadership to have a full council in September so that decisions can be scrutinised, and questions asked of the Leader.”

A council spokesman told HOT that a full council meeting was never officially scheduled for September.

Trial meeting planned

“The full council meeting, involving all 32 councillors, scheduled to take place on Wednesday 15 July was deferred until after the summer,” he said. “No specific date was set for it, though it was agreed to do a trial to test the procedures and technology required.

“The decision to postpone the meeting, due to a number of reasons related to the impact of COVID-19, had cross-party agreement. There were no significant items that required full council decision at the time.

“The trial full council meeting involving councillors willing to volunteer, as well as officers and the Mayor, was due to be held towards the end of July. This trial unfortunately had to be delayed due to staff and councillor availability and will be scheduled shortly.

“The next scheduled full council meeting is due to be held on 21 October.”

The calendar of meetings on the HBC website states that full council meetings scheduled for 22 April, 13 May and 15 July were all cancelled, though nothing is shown for September.

“The council is committed to transparency and democracy,” the spokesman said. “It has been holding virtual meetings since early May, including cabinet, planning and licensing committees. Videos of these meetings, and associated documents, can be found on the council’s website. These meetings are live-streamed and anyone can follow along.”

There have been problems with the technology, as when a Cabinet meeting had to be abandoned and rescheduled in June when the streaming system failed.

Cllr Rob Lee wants the opportunity to scrutinise council decisions.

“Failure of accountability”

Cllr Lee said that the failure to hold full council meetings was a “total failure of accountability, with opposition councillors being shut out of the council decision-making process altogether. It is undemocratic and simply is not good enough.

“The unprecedented gap in full council meetings comes after the new Labour leader Kim Forward controversially threw the Conservatives off the council cabinet earlier in the year in a move that prompted outcry from some local residents that Labour were behaving undemocratically.”

He claimed that of councils in Sussex and Kent, only Hastings and Eastbourne had failed to hold both the annual full council meeting and virtual full council meetings.

Rother District Council held a full council meeting on 1 June after one scheduled for 18 May was cancelled, and an extraordinary meeting on 18 August. All RDC meetings that would be open to the public are being live-streamed via You Tube for public viewing, council leader Doug Oliver told HOT.

“The future is remote meetings to continue – there may be a possibility of hybrid style with some members and public in the chamber  with restricted numbers – and remote for those who out of choice or location would suit,” he said. “I believe this is being piloted by some local authorities.”

County Hall, Lewes.

East Sussex County Council held council meetings on 12 May and 7 July. “All council meetings are currently being held remotely and are being broadcast live via our website,” a spokeswoman told HOT.

Members of the public can also watch meetings as they take place on a screen at County Hall, she said.






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Posted 13:55 Friday, Sep 11, 2020 In: Local Government


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  1. Keith Piggott

    Bolshie’s comments (Sept.15, 2020), uncharacteristically, pulls his punches.
    Let me add flesh to his cited lack of ‘transparency and democracy’. In the winter of 1996/7 digging out setts, nightly badger baiting with dogs, also shootings (of badgers) in woodland off Gillsmans Hill, I reported to Sussex Police also the Borough Planning Officer who wrote back naming a (still active) officer to liase with police investigators.

    In 2012/14 under FOI rules I was permitted access to divers Gillsmans Hill property files. Disturbingly, I found no copy of that correspondence that I still possessed in my own files. Under same FOI rules I sought a response by the formerly named officer delegated to liase with police. The response was that the officer had no record nor any recollection of the complaint events.

    Next, Sussex Police, who responded in view of lapsed time all records had been destroyed in regular reviews. OK, think what you will.

    Next, I copied the former Planning Officer’s letters from my own files and forwarded to HBC FOI Officer with suggestion that for a complete record these be inserted into the appropriate archived files. Were they inserted?

    On 6th June 2012, HBC planning enforcement organised a site meeting with developers, myself and ESCC Estates Manager Mr Thomas to reach an agreed boundary agreement based on 1892 covenanted boundary fence plans. All the parties agreed our Yucca hedgeline was boundary, later defined by ESCC’s solicitor. Days later excavators tore up the Yucca hedgeline. I used FOI to obtain HBC record of site meeting. I got a typed report that moved agreed boundary to ‘blue pegs’ 2.5 meters inside ESCC land; very reason for our protests. ESCC’s manager and solicitor refuted HBC record. Under FOI I sought original MS notes. MS notes accord with ESCC, and mine. I cited disturbing dichotomy to HBC solicitor, “The typed report stands as record”.

    Transparent enough? Democracy too? KP

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Thursday, Oct 8, 2020 @ 00:25

  2. Bolshie

    What caught my eye in this interesting article was the remark by a Council Spokesman said: “We are committed to transparency and democracy.” Oh really !
    Where have those two things been in the issues of things such as Rocklands, the Bunker, West Marina for starters. Without a list of more historic examples one could list.
    I find it really quite irritating to read claims like this from HBC when they cherry pick what they want to be open about.

    Comment by Bolshie — Tuesday, Sep 15, 2020 @ 09:31

  3. Cllr Michael Edwards

    “HBC Rebuts Lee’s claim over failure of Full Council to meet”. Well if the above is a rebuttal its a pretty weak rebuttal. The fact is HBC has not held a Full Council meeting since February, seven months ago, when Peter Chowney was Leader of the Council. We have yet to see Cllr Kim Forward set out her vision as Leader of the borough.

    In this time the council has handed out on behalf of the government many millions of pounds to local businesses without any democratic scrutiny. In this time some of the risky investments in commercial property have turned sour as rents have not been paid to the council but we don’t know which or how much. In this time many normal routine committee meetings where the normal business of council is conducted have been cancelled without explanation. A recent online meeting of the Planning Committee concluded after seven minutes after considering one item.

    Of course everyone recognises the severe effect of the pandemic on our daily lives but we cannot permit those in positions of democratic accountability to hide behind the restrictions and thereby escape scrutiny of their decisions. The anonymous spokesman says the next Full Council is DUE TO BE HELD on 21st October. In view of the multiple recent cancellations I would have preferred the wording to read WILL BE HELD.

    We all know the shortcomings of virtual meetings so it should also be the firm objective of the Council to hold face to face meetings in a large and appropriate room or hall within the borough. Come on HBC, take the lead and get it together to restore some degree of normality.

    Comment by Cllr Michael Edwards — Monday, Sep 14, 2020 @ 11:24

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