Bear-baiting

ON A sweltering summer’s day this week (there was one!) the Council Chamber felt like a sauna, and smelled like a bear-pit.

The Tory councillor who most reminds me of a bear is Glenn Jordan from Chaddlewood, the Cabinet member for Healthy Communities and Leisure.

Jordan was enjoying a nice day out when he rose on to his hind legs to introduce the city’s new cultural strategy.  After all, who could disagree with a bit of culture?

He sniffed the air, smiled, and told everyone how nice his strategy was.

Then they tied him to a post and unleashed the mastiffs for a spell of bear-baiting.

A central pillar of the strategy is a city-wide Cultural Board independent of the council. This appeared to enrage Nicky Wildy (Lab, Devonport) who thought the city needed an action plan, not a strategy, and least of all a board.

She went in for the kill, teeth snapping literary quotations in half.

It was, she said, Hamlet; it was Polonius; it was clearly baloney. It was Groucho Marx, chicken-feed (though not, curiously, Duck Feathers), a waste of time, words-words-words, cut-and-paste, bits-and-pieces.

Leader of the pack Tudor Evans also weighed in, saying that projects like the Theatre Royal had ‘salami-sliced’ other cultural activities in the city. The new strategy, he said, must be for everyone.

Sue Dann (Lab, Moor View) said the strategy had Plymouth City Council written all over it.

“I’m going to say,” said the bear, “that you’re all going round in circles.”

It was, he said, precisely because he didn’t want Plymouth City Council written all over it that he was setting up a board with an independent chair. Only then would other organisations buy into any action plan.

Exit hounds, pursued by a bear.

ANOTHER bear of a councillor is Peter Brookshaw, Cabinet Member for Communities and Supporting People. Right now he’s probably a bear with a sore head after a handbagging from his leader, Vivien Pengelly.

The council was forced to launch an investigation into the use of the ‘Mosquito’ – the ultrasonic devices some shopkeepers have installed to repel young loiterers – after a Brookshaw tactical error.

It all began early last month with a petition from six boys at Tamarside Community College, and would probably have ended in the waste bin if Brookshaw had not been so bloody-minded.

He refused to accept the petition, telling The Herald that he approved of the Mosquito.

Many politicians accept petitions that they disagree with, then dump them on a shelf to gather dust. Refusing to see the Tamarside boys pretty well guaranteed that Labour would make an issue of it.

Brookshaw was conveniently away on some kind of teddy bears’ picnic and therefore unable to receive the petition from Sally Letcher, Labour councillor for St Budeaux, who has supported the Tamarside boys.

Mrs Pengelly ate humble pie on Brookshaw’s behalf, though she rejected calls to force him to accept the petition.

Now the Mosquito issue is going to be aired in public, and let’s hope Plymouth

will become the second council (after Kent) to ban the indiscriminate devices that punish any youngster, good or bad.

LIKE the polar bear, Ted Fry’s ice floe appeared to be melting around him when he tried not to answer a question about land trains.

The Tory deputy leader has a politician’s way of saying everything – and nothing – at once.

At the council bear-baiting session Tudor Evans asked Kevin Wigens, the Cabinet member for transport, about the future of the city centre ‘land train’ that Taxifast boss John Preece has promised.

Three years ago it was reported that Preece was fitting out such a land train to ferry passengers around the city. It didn’t happen.

In April this year Preece assured The Herald that it would go ahead this summer (which is fast running out).

Wigens neatly ducked the question, passing it to Fry on the grounds that “It’s more of a city centre issue than a transport one”.

“The ball is in the court of the operator,” Fry said. “He is making representations to the proper authorities.”

Barely an answer at all.

A DOG of a different sort wandered into the bear garden: Steve Pearce, the council’s new standards watchdog.

Mr Pearce has been appointed as independent chairman of Plymouth’s Standards Committee after the Government gave councils new powers to regulate the behaviour of their members and to punish those who step out of line. This used to be the job of the centralised Standards Board for England.

As watchdogs go, Mr Pearce looks more like a friendly red setter than a mastiff. He made a short and sensible speech, introducing himself to councillors, then watched in bemusement as they bickered over whether to call him ‘independent’ or ‘appointed’. It must have been the heat in the bear-pit.

 
 

 

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