Never Mind the Evidence! Capital of Culture Bid sent back to cabinet

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The Scrutiny Committee of Cornwall Council has narrowly voted 5:4 to send the Capital of Culture bid back to cabinet for further consideration. The committee voted 4:4 and the Chair cast his vote after two and a half hours of deliberation.

The fate of the bid now depends on a Truro City Council meeting on Monday evening.

The cabinet will now meet on February 27th to speed up the bid process to consider today’s findings but will vote it through… unless…

We have been reliably informed that if Truro City Council vote against supporting the bid on Monday evening the bid will be dead in the water, it will not even get to cabinet, and will be dropped.

 

The show rolls on..

But back to today. We heard two and a half hours of considered and detailed evidence from Sandra Rothwell (LEP) and Cllr Julian German with backup from others, laying out the preparations and the time line, scale, stages and bid process leading up to this point and beyond to 2023.

Two and a half hours of wasted time really because all that evidence didn’t amount to a hill of beans as everyone’s mind was made up before they walked in the door. This was in many ways not a scrutiny hearing but more a performance piece, dancers striding intricately weaved patterns on a stage.

The Chair, Independent Neil Burden opened proceedings by reminding everyone to stick to the script. He didn’t want to hear about the money or the merits of the bid etc. This was not even about the bid. This was about the process of the council, and scrutiny of decision making.

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Neil Burden

The only two grounds of complaint and discussion should have been:

1. That there was inadequate consultation with partners, and 2. that there was inadequate evidence to base a decision.

The Tory group on the commitee was led by John Keeling and supported by Sue Nicholas. Cllr Eathorne Gibbons the supposedly independent Councillor, sat next to Mr Keeling. With moral support from Fiona Ferguson in the back row.

Repeatedly this group said that they had not seen enough evidence to allow the cabinet to proceed without further inspection. Or that the evidence that came before them was not convincing.

Read that again because, after all it depends on what you read. Councillor Keeling admitted that he had no knowledge of the existence of the Culture White Paper (Version 2) on which most of the evidence for the ECOC bid is based. He didn’t know it existed, let alone read it. Amongst them, none had attended any meetings about the bid that were available to them. They kept saying how Cornwall couldn’t possibly get a bid together in time but then in the next sentence would freely admit that they have no first-hand knowledge of the extensive investment into Cultural Industries made  in Cornwall over the last 20 years.

But this was not supposed to even be about that. This was supposed to be about whether or not the cabinet had sufficient evidence to consider the risk and implication of the decision they made on 25th January.

John Pollard, the Leader of the Council said that he was satisfied that the cabinet decision was ‘robust’. He said he was satisfied that his cabinet colleagues had been given the knowledge to make a sound choice based on the merits of evidence and this is what was done. He urged the committee to let the bid proceed without further delay. Edwina Hannaford, Cabinet Member, backed this up and said she would not have supported the initiative if the evidence was not there.

The timing and rushed nature of getting to cabinet was picked over. The government only opened the call on Dec 16th repeated Ms Rothwell. The Economy PAC (committee) led by Tim Dwelly was consulted before the Cabinet meeting on the 25th but Dwelly  and his vice-chair, Cllr Candy, after receiving a briefing session by a council officer and having had previous committee discussions decided that an emergency meeting of the Economy PAC would not be necessary. Mr Dwelly submitted a two page letter to the Scrutiny Committee explaining his version of events and his committee’s support.

In it he states:

“The Economy PAC debated in great detail the content of the Council’s White Paper for Culture – Version 2, including whether to bid for the European Capital of Culture designation. …. it actively encouraged the inclusion of the Capital of Culture aspiration in the white paper. We were delighted when Cabinet originally approved the document in  May 2016. Indeed, Cabinet did not just approve the document, they made a specific recommendation to bid for for the Capital of Culture. This wasn’t challenged or called in at the time”

He went on to say “The intention to bid has been made clear for at least two years. I would encourage the SC not to derail or delay a project which could deliver thousands of jobs for Cornwall with an Economic impact of over £100m”

So this establishes that a ECOC bid was settled Council policy since May 2016.

The ECOC bid is included in the Culture White Paper. The Culture White paper was approved by cabinet in May 2016. Then we had the Brexit referendum. The government confirmed that the process of ECOC bidding would go ahead on December 16th. The next cabinet was January 25th so the process was rushed however officials gave the nod that everything was in place to proceed to Cabinet. As John Pollard said, it wouldn’t have been allowed to be considered for discussion if it wasn’t prepared properly. Mr German has since apoligised to the Truro Mayor for not personally involving him.

Toward the end of the meeting the chair was losing control and he didn’t seem to have a grasp of the correct procedure and process. They finally agreed on a vote and it was 4- 4 but the Chair decided that despite everything he’d heard, the Economy PAC should have held a specific discussion about the bid post Brexit. And so, because that didn’t happen, he could say that not everything had been considered properly, and so it got sent back to Cabinet.

However there should have been 10 on the committee today, not 9. The difference on the day was no show Lib Dem Gemma Massey who sent apologies in the morning as her young daughter has Chicken Pox. (She texted CS today with evidence of a msg). She would have voted the bid through. It is unclear at this point whether or not she arranged a substitute…

… WARNING Anyone hoping to be working in Cornwall’s Cultural Industries in the next 10 years might want to hide behind the sofa at this point…..

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Cllr Brown

This is Cllr Brown. He is the aged Lib Dem Deputy group leader. He has been a vocal opponent of the bid. Part of his job is arranging substitutes for committees.

Cllr Brown subbed himself on for the absent Cllr Rob Rotchell (on holiday) at today’s meeting.

Cllr Brown admitted in a phone call to CS this afternoon that he knew Rotchell would be voting in favour of the bid proceeding. However as Rotchell’s substitute, he himself would be voting against.

“I didn’t say much, I didn’t ask a question, I didn’t feel the need to” said the substitute member of the committee set up to ask questions of the council.

“The members of the public I’ve spoke to have said to me it’s a bad use of money. When I walked in the room I was inclined to send it back to cabinet. Although I was impressed by the officers today I don’t think it was sound to go ahead. In particular I think there needs to be more explanation about where the funding is going to come from, what the total cost would be”

So, nothing about the process then. Nothing about the evidence of how the bid got to cabinet. Or that this is just about the initial bid to try and get us on the shortlist. Or that he knew full well of the problems it will cause his own party just before an election.

“The Lib Dems had done a consultation via email of our group members and the response it is fair to say was pretty evenly divided. So it was probably quite fair for the three Lib Dems today to be 2 : 1”

“Gemma’s moving house. I didn’t hear if Gemma had sent apologies or not. I don’t know.  I got there 5 minutes late but substitutes have to be arranged before the meeting starts” Oh whoops.

“It was obvious that this was going to be a contentious meeting so I did write to all of our members asking if they’d be there..

“But it is all about who turns up. Paradoxically Roy Taylor was there… who is another of the Lib Dem substitutes.. so I suppose if Gemma had had a substitute it would have been different”

“Equally Rob Rotchell – if he had been there he would not have voted for the reference back to Cabinet. I know that. He would have voted differently to what I did”

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