It was all change at the top this morning, as Hampshire Council appointed a new Leader. Conservative Cllr Ken Thornber took over the role of Chairman of Hampshire County Council whilst Conservative Cllr Roy Perry took over Cllr Thornber’s old role of Leader of the Council.
The changes were effected at this mornings Special Council meeting and AGM, where the ruling Conservative party’s improvised a response to their disaster at the polls on the 2nd May.
The Conservative who had been pre-ordained to take over the role of chairman this year, Pam Mutton, the former Hants County Councillor for Andover North, was beaten by 10 votes in those elections, by Timothy Rolt of UKIP.
That defeat was much lamented by Cllr Thornber, saying that it was;
“a grevious loss to his party”,
as he took up the office that he was expecting Pam to hold this year…
Curiously, at the time of writing, Pam Mutton is still listed as a County Councillor on the Hants County Council website and on the Pilgrims Way and River Way website. The wheels of change move a lot slower when you are a Councillor on the way out, rather than a newly elected Councillor taking up office…
… of which there were many to be seen this morning.
Cllr Ray Finch of UKIP, in a move that might help to reassure people that UKIP are responsible if elected at local level, spoke to say that;
“UKIP would not be seeking membership of the County Council’s Europe Board”,
That move avoids the disruption that UKIP could have brought to that particular committee, allowing the County Council to manage Hampshire’s ongoing business with Europe unhindered by UKIP’s ‘Out of Europe’ agenda, a matter which can only be resolved at national level. Clearly anticipating some progress on that front soon, Cllr Finch couldn’t resist adding that;
“We’ll be out of Europe soon enough anyway…”
Much of this mornings meeting was concerned with the rituals of handing over the chains of office, badges of office,bouquets to the consorts and approving some honorary Aldermanships for the outgoing Councillors. There were plenty of speeches too.
At one stage, the new Leader of Hampshire County Council, Cllr Roy Perry, bemoaned the interference from Westminster, saying that Hampshire was the Democratic tier of Local Government. Although Cllr Perry went on to say that he didn’t want an independent Hampshire, his words were very reminiscent of some that Eastleigh News had heard uttered by Colin Bex, the Wessex Regionalist candidate at the recent Parliamentary by-election in Eastleigh…
Besides an interesting statistic, where Cllr Thornber himself revealed that 7 of his former staff, PA’s etc, have had babies, a fact of life that Cllr Thornber quickly went on to deny any responsiblity for (and we believe him!), the new Chairman also said that he would;
“Rise to the challenge of delivering budget cuts that he knows will be expected by Westminster, whilst maintaining services.”
Ken was also at pains to explain that in his new role, he expects to be referred to as “Chairman”, rather than “Chair” or “Ken”, or “Councillor”…
We then learned that Ken really doesn’t like the live broadcast of Hampshire County Council meetings and he warned Councillors to be careful what they say, as the presence of TV means that;
“No-one can deny what they said and how they said it”
Which was actually a very revealing insight into how Hampshire County Council would otherwise work…
Perhaps himself mindful of the TV, Cllr Thornber also went to some lengths to explain the procedures for asking questions of the Executive in the Council Chamber and for raising motions to be debated.
Councillors were told that questions to the executive have to be submitted in writing 5 working days in advance and are not to be read out in full in the chamber, an instruction which one Councillor promptly and pointedly ignored, an indiscretion which drew gentle chastisement from chair. Cllr Keith House, leading the Lib Dems in opposition at HCC, rose to explain the fallacy of that situation, saying that the TV audience need to appreciate the question. An ongoing battle of wits seems likely at HCC, over the coming months, with opposition Councillors trying to make their questions fully public and the Conservative rulers trying to suppress that…
Because of all the speeches, little business of any substance was conducted today, though Cllr Martin Tod did have some success. His question to the Executive, about whether public comments on planning matters could be published on the web, drew a positive response and should be implemented before the next meeting.
The Lib Dems raised an interesting motion for discussion in the chamber, suggesting that the Council should ban a process called “Fracking” within the county. That process, of injecting pressurised fluid into the ground to open up fractures in rock so that shale gas can be extracted, was said by the Lib Dems to be environmentally unfriendly, responsible for earth tremors and not something that should be carried out within the County of Hampshire.
Again wary of the cameras and the public record, the motion was not discussed any further at todays AGM, but was kicked into touch for further discussion in a future committee meeting.
All of the Hampshire County Council webcasts are retained in an archive on the County Council website. You can watch today’s proceedings by following the appropriate link from that archive.