Put to the question
IN OLDEN days, heretics were ‘put to the question’ by their torturers in order to get at the truth. These days, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but politicians are answerable for what they do on our behalf.
And whether questions are from members of the public or councillors, the aim is to discover what’s happening.
So while it can feel like torture to ask a question, it can be torture to answer one.
With Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) they’re given by the relevant executive or deputy executive member (EM/DEM).
Answers can be Educational
Back in spring 2017 when
WBC was under different management, a local group asked questions about the Borough’s schools. As the EM was at a parent teacher meeting, the DEM stood up instead.
A few questions later and even skilled observers of council meetings couldn’t understand how the responses matched the questions. Instead of asking difficult supplementaries, what happened was really unfair.
They just asked the original questions again.
“Splutter … written answer? … splutter … later?”
The EM’s arrival couldn’t come soon enough.
So the first learning for those delivering an answer is to make sure you’ve got one.
Preferably answering the question that’s been asked.
Arrest that council!!!
At September’s council meeting, questions were asked by tenant members of WBC’s tenant and landlord improvement panel (TLIP).
The first question enquired how WBC proposed to remedy the urgent situation because “the council is currently in breach of its statutory duties”.
In breach??? Statutory duty??? Hold on, that’s fighting talk. Usually from lawyers claiming that what you’re doing is against the law.
The DEM apologised for the Council’s oversight and promised it wouldn’t happen again. Wow – an apology. But it’s an admission of guilt in public isn’t it?
Now where are you going to find a policeman at eight o’clock in the evening? By coincidence, the very next agenda item was being presented by Francis Habgood – chief constable for Thames Valley Police.
So the second learning is to avoid self-incrimination on any topic that gives the chief constable cause to arrest the whole council.
Free parking – here, there, everywhere
As the minister for potholes jams, and ‘P’ has said in this paper, he opposes “P for free” as WBC’s parking data shows usage is up during the summer.
Also that the new multi-storey Carnival Pool car park has 15 minutes free. Has anyone timed the walk to the shops?
However, the minister for jams got himself into one answering a question on the Woodley parking trial because WBC hasn’t got the parking data.
Hmmm – he has or he hasn’t got the parking data. Would he make his mind up please?
Naturally, you can “P for free” when you’re in a traffic jam.
A question on co-ordinating roadworks led the minister for potholes trying to find one to hide in. If we’re to understand the answer, roadworks are well coordinated and if Councillors want to know about them in advance they can jolly well look them up on roadworks.org.
So the third learning is to make sure your answers are logical and credible.
It’s not personal, it’s strictly business
The Borough’s vision is to be “a great place to live, an even better place to do business.” So, with
WBC under new management the creation of a Minister of Business (MoB) should be good.
With work on Peach Place and Market Place at the same time, trade has crashed.
While high street chains should survive, the independents might not. Allegedly the MoB didn’t attend the traders’ meeting to understand / address their concerns.
But it was inspiring to hear at September’s Council meeting his report of good news as to how well superfast broadband is going.
Perhaps if he’d visited Hatch Farm earlier this year, he’d have discovered that broadband was neither super nor fast.
So the fourth learning is making sure your material is helpful and timely.
A plan so cunning you could …
Amidst this comedy / tragedy, WBC’s Local Plan Update is trying to prevent the borough from being completely concreted over.
A councillor’s supplementary question at September’s WBC executive meeting scored a bullseye but, as the question had come across as an answer, what followed was the answer coming across as a question (actually two, but who’s counting) :
Q1: “Having given planning permissions to over 11,000 homes, why are Wokingham’s residents being penalised for the developers’ failure to build them ?
Q2: “Starter homes have gone from nearly nine times average earnings in 2014 to around eleven times average earnings in 2016. Why has the borough’s housing number being penalised arbitrarily for unaffordability when prices are controlled by developers?
This it isn’t just about our local housing market. The planning system, the planning inspectorate, and the DCLG aren’t looking good either.
The Last Word
If you love concrete, everything’s fine.
But if you’re unhappy that our green fields and London’s green belt are disappearing, it’s time for you to consider putting some of the country’s MPs to the question.
The four serving the borough are: Theresa May (northern); Matt Rodda (mid-west); Dr Philip Lee (mid-east); and John Redwood (central, western and southern parishes).
And while constituency MPs put questions to government ministers on our behalf, they need to understand our concerns.
Its time to write to your MP.