Car Parking Panel – The Fat Lady Has Started To Sing
For me, Monday started with a huge kick in the teeth as after so much work over the last 18 months I found out by email that the Parking Panel would be no more. I was sent an email saying the Parking Panel is history and you should cancel Wednesday’s (today’s) meeting as at the next Cabinet meeting the Panel is going to be disbanded. To be honest, I don’t think that email in it’s entirely was meant for me, but what a way to find out. I replied to the email saying if it was to be the last meeting, then I want to tell the members of it face to face and I would not cancel.
Now I have always known that the Panel were set up to help the Cabinet Member (Graeme Hicks) to make sense of the complexities of parking. I have know Graeme long enough to know that if he had a problem with me or the Panel he would make it know, and for the last 18 months he has not. More to the point, he has been impressed with the work we have carried out. To find this decision out by email is damn right rude, I would have at least expected a call or at a push asked for a meeting. I did though manage to speak to Graeme after I called him to ask a few basic questions. One of them was why are you getting rid of the Panel? His answer was I don’t want to, but it was a Leadership (political) decision. Today, Graeme apologised to the way in which I found out.
You may wonder why I am so bothered as to most parking policy is a pain. Now I could say I will now not have to deal with the many complaints, issues, explanations, and then rolled out to defend a decision. That is not me, as I volunteered for the role and put myself my name forward to be it’s Chairman because I wanted to tackle this difficult topic. I still want to continue because we still have a full work plan for this year and next. It is like leaving a job that is half done and might never be completed, it makes you sad. You may not agree with the final decisions, but the ethos behind them is sound.
I am not sure what will happen to the existing work plan, the items on it and how they will be tackled (like Season Tickets, Reserved Parking to name but a few of the many issues). As it seems no one knows outside of the inner-sanctum of the Cabinet knows as who will now deal with parking. Even the Scrutiny Chairman (who’s committee scrutinises this area) said today no one has told him this was happening, or how he was meant to fit in this into his work plan, as his committee has already a huge workload and would really struggle without a lot of extra resources.
Telling the Panel today what little I did know was met with astonishment and anger. I gave all the Panel Members the opportunity to express their views, and they sure expressed it. Most felt let down and disappointed by this decision as why after 18 months of work with some very tough choices this is the way they are being treated. A few spoke up about the Panel not being merely a nodding dog and really challenged the issues and felt this was the reason why it was to be disbanded. The Members of the Parking Panel have a lot of knowledge and who ever takes over will most probably will have to start from scratch because they will not have the in-depth understanding like the Panel has.
I really think the powers-to-be dont understand the complexities surrounding this subject. It is not simply about how much money we can raise, but how any changes, charges and policies effect people and town centres. Why get rid of a Panel that has a proven track record in trying to make sense of it all. Is the reason personal because my willingness to stand up and challenge issues that I believe are wrong? More worrying, is this all about less Member involvement in formalised panels and a direction of more informal working groups that have limited minutes and no public access? If it is the later, then I really am worried as this is not what a open and transparent Council should be.
Of course nothing is set in stone as a few weeks is a longtime in politics. The Panel may still be reprieved because the final decision on its future will be taken at the next Cabinet meeting and maybe there is a chance to show why this panel should be kept.
I am very grateful for the support by my fellow Councillors and bloggers Jeremy Rowe and Alex Folkes. They have pointed out that they might not have agreed with the final decisions, but felt the Panel worked.
I am growing increasingly concerned about certain aspects of the Cabinet system and feel Blind Pew has more vision than what is currently being shown.
Finally and more importantly, I would like to express my sincere thanks to all the Panel Members who have worked extremely hard on this subject Without that hard work my job as Chairman would have been much more difficult.