WEXHAM COURT PARISH COUNCIL
APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE:
Councillor Peter Gerstmann (working).
Prior to commencement of the proceedings the Chairman advised that the meeting would be recorded as per the trial that had previously been agreed by Full Council. However, some Members objected to this. A lengthy debate took place following which it was agreed that the recording device would be switched off and reconsidered at a later date.
120. APPROVAL OF APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
RESOLVED: That apologies for absence offered in respect of this meeting be approved.
121. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Councillors Malik and Sohal declared an interest in relation to their roles as Borough Councillors.
122. CONSIDERATION OF DISPENSATION APPLICATIONS RELATING TO THE CODE OF CONDUCT
No applications were submitted.
123. MINUTES OF THE MEETING HELD ON 11TH DECEMBER 2012
A Member raised his concerns that the named vote in Item 99 of the minutes did not comply with Standing Orders. The Clerk was asked to note that the majority of Members disagreed with the inclusion of the names. The Clerk advised that any Member could request a named vote in accordance with Standing Orders, and that the Chairman had done so. However, it was apparent that this exchange between the Chairman and the Clerk had not been heard and it was agreed that such requests for a named vote would be made more clear in future.
Two other items in the minutes were clarified and the Clerk advised that the accuracy of the minutes was her responsibility as Proper Officer in accordance with the Law. It was noted that the recording of meetings would resolve any questions raised and confirm that minutes were a true reflection of the proceedings. The Minutes of the Meeting of 11th December 2012 were approved as a correct record.
124. MINUTES OF THE SPECIAL MEETING HELD ON 21ST JANUARY 2013
Two minor amendments to the minutes were requested and agreed. The Minutes of the Special Meeting of 21st January 2013, as amended, were approved as a correct record.
The Clerk advised that complaints had been received in relation to the surrender of the land agreed by a majority in Item 116. As such a complaint had never been received before it would be necessary for a Working Group to formulate an official complaints procedure and subsequently respond to the complaints. Councillors Aldridge, Donachy, Malik and Zeib volunteered to form the Complaints Working Group.
The Chairman invited the members of the public to speak at this point since the resident complaints were a matter arising from this item. Various members of the public put forward the following comments and questions:
· The location of the land in question was confirmed.
· It was noted that it was the Borough Council’s responsibility to make the area suitable for use by the public whilst preserving the majority of it as a nature area, and the local Ward Councillors had been asked to pursue this on behalf of the residents.
· Residents questioned why the Borough Council had not done what they had promised to do with the land.
· Several meetings had taken place with SBC Officers, Elizabeth Jenkins and Michael Condon, at the time the Leases were signed and it was agreed that this land would be cleared by SBC for public use and as a wildlife area.
· Councillor Sohal had advised some time ago that SBC had plans for the land, and it was felt that he was now using his political abilities in the Parish Council to do what SBC wanted.
· The Labour Group’s next plan was questioned, since it was noted that Councillor Malik had also discussed getting rid of the Parish Hall.
· The public felt that they had a right to be consulted and kept informed of the plans for their Parish Land (to which Councillor Sohal responded, “It is nothing to do with the public.”).
· In light of the fact that the public didn’t want the land sold, could it now be stopped?
· The public were concerned that the surrender of this piece of land would set a precedent to escalate development plans to all of the Parish Land.
· The residents of Oak House and The Pines care homes had been given to understand that the land would be used as a wildlife reserve with a path for resident access. This would provide an important recreational facility for them and denying them this was diabolical and not fair. They had planned to raise funds for benches to be installed.
· It was noted that fly-tipping was often used as an excuse when building on a site was planned but in this case it was not true. Homeless people had set up a camp and had been living there.
· One member of the public stated that his children were afraid to walk on the land in its current state and that the Parish Council had taken the best decision to provide housing for the homeless. He said it was the responsibility of the Parish Council to put things right and they had failed to do so. It was clarified that SBC was meant to clear it and the failure was theirs. Also the new houses would be private, and not intended for the homeless.
· A resident questioned why the land being sold for ‘bottom dollar’, and why some of the Councillors voted against the other suggestions put forward?
Councillor Sohal advised that he had a meeting with retired Councillor Dave Davies, who suggested that the land was of no use and a deal with SBC should be considered. On these instructions, he went to SBC to ask what could be done. Mr Davies confirmed that they indeed had a meeting, but that he was just a member of the public at that time and could not give ‘instructions’. His statement that the land was of no use in its present state was a personal opinion.
The signing of the Agreement for Lease was again disputed and the Clerk reiterated that it had been signed and explained the lease process again. Councillor Gahir stated, “The Clerk can say what she likes… this is not a legal document until signed by both parties.” The Clerk advised that it had been signed by all parties and Mr Davies confirmed that he was a signatory. Members of the public pointed out that an article in the local Press confirmed that the land had been leased to the Parish Council.
Councillor Zeib questioned why Mr Davies referred to some Members as the ‘Labour Group’ since the Parish Council should be non-political. Mr Davies commented that several new Members had declared themselves to be Labour and appeared to be working for the Labour Party rather than the people of Wexham. A political argument ensued and various comments were made which were not relevant to this item.
The Chairman closed the item by stating that the Parish Council had been made aware that the public are not happy with the decision and the resulting complaints would be dealt with.
125. POLICE LIAISON
The Police Officers reported that the main issues at this time were burglaries, shed break-ins, and assaults. Various operations had been taking place around Slough and this had been successful in reducing crime. No burglaries had taken place in Wexham for the last few weeks. The public were urged to report any suspected crime so that the Policing Team could act on the info received.
Members reported vehicles obstructing the Uxbridge Road/Frithe junction, and a problem with the speed monitoring devices.
The officers were thanked for attending.
126. SBC PRESENTATION ON 2013/14 BUDGET
Mr Mark Taylor, interim Assistant Director of Finance, had kindly attended to give a presentation on the 2013/14 SBC budget. He distributed presentation handouts and explained the continuing budgetary restraints that SBC are experiencing. This had been exascerbated by the pressures of current inflation and the national deficit, but further savings had nevertheless been identified without cutting services. A modest 1.9% increase in Council Tax had been proposed, representing an average of just 43 pence per week, although Central Government had recommended a freeze. The vulnerable and disadvantaged would receive assistance.
A partnership with developers had been formed to assist with a master plan and this would offer a commercial advantage. All developments would be subject to planning requirements and full consultation.
Members were given an opportunity to put questions to Mr Taylor and he was thanked for attending.
127. INFORMATION REPORTS - MEMBERS & BOROUGH COUNCILLORS
The following items were reported:
· An update was provided in relation to the new bus routes and this was further discussed.
· The re-structured Community Warden Team now consisted of five people covering the whole east area.
· SBC had set aside £15K for verge protection measures in Wexham and a list of further areas to be considered was requested. Parking bays could also be considered. A further walkabout was arranged for 10th March, meeting at the Parish Hall at midday.
· Some problems had been highlighted in relation to private tenancies where residents had to move out.
· Complaints had been received regarding an end house in Dornels where no hard standing was provided in the garden and this had resulted in mud on the footpaths. This would be investigated during the forthcoming walkabout.
· A further meeting with John Rice had taken place.
· The Parish Council had been represented at the recent SBC/Parish Councils Forum Meeting. Hospital parking issues had been a subject of discussion at this meeting, and also at a further meeting arranged by Wexham Parish Council in George Green. The hospital was engaged in discussions with The Park reference use of their parking space.
The Chairman announced that Councillor Vinay Vyas had been forced to resign from the Parish Council by his employers and the vacancy had now been advertised. Some Members were displeased that the vacancy had been advertised without first consulting them. The Clerk and Chairman explained that normal procedure had been followed. Councillor Vyas’ resignation letter was dated 5th January and the vacancy was advertised on 5th February, thus allowing the usual 30-day grace period. The Law stated that a vacancy must be advertised. The Clerk and Chairman were accused of withholding information by Councillor Sohal but they explained that they were not initially aware of the resignation since the letter had been received during recess and was not opened. Councillor Sohal also stated that, “Minutes are being manufactured.” Councillor Sohal was asked by the Chairman to stop shouting.
Councillor Gahir put forward a motion of no confidence in the Chairman. Councillor Sohal seconded this and stated that the Chairman had lost the confidence of the majority of the Council. This statement prompted a heated exchange between some of the Members and a vote subsequently took place. A named vote was requested, 5 for (Councillors Fayyaz, Hussain, Malik, Sohal & Zeib), 2 against (Councillors Aldridge and Egan), and one abstention (Councillor Donachy).
The Chairman continued with the meeting, unperturbed by the interruption.
128. FINANCIAL REPORT
The Finance Clerk submitted the Financial Statements for the 1st to 30th November and 1st to 31st December.
SBC had advised the figures for the Council Tax base calculations. Changes to the calculations had resulted in a shortfall but a grant would be received to bring the Precept up to its normal level. The Finance Clerk advised that there were items remaining from the last year’s budget that should be spent.
An update was provided in relation to the Cherries/Knolton Way CCTV system. A letter had been delivered to Mr Kulaga as requested and an email had been received stating that he was in contact with a Member. Councillor Sohal explained that he had previously been in contact but, on the advice of the Finance Clerk, he had informed Mr Kulaga that he could not correspond further since the matter was in the hands of the court.
It was agreed that the next F&GP Committee meetings would take place on the 22nd February (staff re‑structure) and 25th February (annual reviews). Members were asked to notify the Finance Clerk if they had any additional items for inclusion on the agenda.
The blocking of personal data on the finance statements was again questioned. The Clerk explained the regulations in regard to ‘need to know’, which stated that Councillors did not have an automatic right to any information unless it directly related to the performance of their duties as a Councillor. In respect of finance matters the given total of the outgoing staff salary payments was all that was necessary. The Finance Clerk was asked to respond to the question and she again clarified the training information that had been obtained.
Some Members continued to question the Finance Clerk, who stated that the Council had been advised of the requirements and it was minuted and approved to show a total. The Finance Clerk reiterated that, as a Data Controller, she was required to protect personal information, which she had done and would continue to do. The questioning Members had recently been offered training but not one had responded. The Finance Clerk saw no point in attending again herself just to be subjected to further scrutiny. Councillor Gahir stated that he had received recent emails from the Finance Clerk on the subject, but he considered that the information therein was incorrect.
At this point the Clerk intervened and stated that she had advised the Finance Clerk not to send out any further information since this would only result in her being subjected to further abuse. The Clerk wished it noted for the record that the Officers were tired of being bullied and intimidated by some Members of the Council. This statement was supported by some of the other Members and also members of the public present.
The Finance Clerk reiterated what the Clerk had said, stating that she had been interrogated, and bullied, to an extent that had gone way beyond what it should be. All she endeavoured to do was to keep the Council within the legal boundaries, and if Councillor Gahir had attended the training session last February he would have had the same opinion regarding the data protection issue.
Councillor Sohal said that he only wanted to know about staff overtime, but the Finance Clerk was shocked by this and stated that she had never been specifically asked for that information.
Approval of the finance statements was deferred to the next meeting due to time constraints and some Members’ reluctance to approve them. The same Members also refused to approve the signing of cheques. However, the signing of 25 cheques had been approved at the December Meeting of Council, pending the receipt of a new cheque book, so this was sufficient to continue with normal Council business for the time being. It was noted that there was nothing to be gained by preventing the Officers from carrying out the Council’s day-to-day business.
The Clerk’s Report was deferred due to time constraints and some Members rose from their seats to leave the meeting. However, a member of the public stated that he had sat and listened to the Council for the last two hours and they should therefore have the decency to allow the usual public question time.
129. PUBLIC QUESTION TIME
Concerns were raised about the volume of traffic at the end of Norway Drive. It was noted that the school traffic damaged the verges and spread mud onto the paths. The Borough Councillors were asked to deal with this.
A member of the public commented that he had voted Labour all his life, but he would not be voting Labour any more after tonight’s performance.
Mr Davies wished it minuted that he had attended almost all Council meetings since retiring last May and he fully agreed with the Clerk and Finance Clerk’s statements re bullying and intimidation of the Officers. He noted that they had not named the offending Councillors but, for the record, he wished to name the Members who had caused the most grief as being Councillors Sohal, Gahir and Malik.
A resident had emailed the Chairman reference an issue with flashing lights during a function at the Hall. The Chairman had responded but the resident was not satisfied. It was agreed that this item would be included on the next agenda for discussion.
A resident observed that the meeting had been informative and the public had exercised their democratic right to voice their opinions. He stated that data protection was applicable to any employee in the public sector but that it was not unreasonable for Members to ask questions.
The Finance Clerk responded that at no time had she ever refused information to Councillors. However, the accounts were available for public viewing and salaries could only be shown as a total as it was not appropriate to show individual amounts. The Annual Accounts were published and open to public inspection every year.
The Meeting closed at 10.00pm.
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