Derby City Council

Banwait’s “political pressure” with community cash failed to deliver his “legacy” .

On 21st June 2017, the Council Cabinet approved the spend of £333,000 on various parks-related schemes in the Blagreaves/Littleover wards.  This was not Council money, but funds secured from a housing developer under a “s106 agreement” ; this is held by the Council, on trust, for the community. The decision as to where such money is spent, typically, rests with Council Officers ( not elected Councillors) in conjunction with people from the local neighbourhood. It should not be political…!

In December 2015, the Council Leader, Cllr Ranjit Banwait, was promoting the idea to formally change the  Electoral cycle. In order to do that he needed to get the support of two-thirds of the Chamber – the Labour group only controlled just over 50%. He felt that he had secured the votes of UKIP, expected that the Conservative group would vote against it, so it  was essential that the Lib Dems supported him.  Banwait knew that this was not a foregone conclusion, he could not rely on their support – so he needed to apply a little “pressure”.

In the Littleover and Blagreaves wards, there are 6 Councillors – 5 Lib Dems, and 1 Labour.

The s106 agreement has a time-limit on it. The money has to be spent by 2019 otherwise it has to be returned to the developer. By December 2015 no progress had been made to use the funds ; Cllr Banwait felt that urgent action was required, so listed an item on the Cabinet agenda for 9 December 2015. The report detailed the scheme options, and the recommendation that they should be given the go-ahead.

 

hs106

On the 8th December 2015, this agenda item was withdrawn, which was explained in an email from Cllr Banwait to the Lib Dem group timed 22:48.

“I am writing to confirm that following our telephone conversation on Monday I will be withdrawing the section 106 proposal at tomorrow’s Cabinet and placing this on hold to allow you and your colleagues time to consult on supporting a proposal to move to a 4 year electoral cycle either individually or as a group.”

There is no logical link between the spending of local money, and voting on a constitutional change…other than for political reasons. The Lib Dem group were under no illusion as to why the 2 issues were linked……in polite terms, “political pressure”.

In an email dated 15 December 2015 00:46 Cllr Banwait informed a senior Council Officer:

“Just to update you about the situation regarding the Heatherton section 106. The report for decision was withdrawn from the recent council cabinet. It will now go for decision to the Council AGM in May (2016) as an agenda item after the vote to change the electoral cycle. The Littleover councillors are to be given the opportunity to present an amendment to the options currently in the report. Please assist the Littleover Councillors from now until the Council AGM to put together option(s) that meet their satisfaction for the entire available budget in the Heatherton Section 106 which will then form their amendment to be tabled at the Council AGM.” (My emphases)

It should be noted that it is not a requirement for decisions on the spending of s106 money to go to Full Council ( other than in exceptional circumstances – this wasn’t one of them)

The proposed sequence in the agenda was critical – to maintain the “pressure”.

This plan was scuppered at the Council meeting on 2 March 2016. Cllr Banwait proposed that the public consultation on the electoral cycle should start the following day on 3 March, so it could be concluded by the May AGM. This was defeated and the consultation took place from 13 May – 8 July. The plan was for the electoral cycle debate in July 2016; as it happened it didn’t take place until 23 November 2016. Even then, no decision was made on the spending of the s106 money, despite the urgency in December 2015.

During this period the local residents were becoming progressively agitated that no decisions were being made on the use of the s106 money, and a small group were nominated by the Neighbourhood Board to pursue this issue with the Council. The community were very clear on how they wanted the money to be spent.  This plan was agreed by 5 of the 6 ward Councillors, and the appropriate Council Officers, confirming that it was legal, and affordable. A formal confirmatory note was sent to Paul Robinson, Chief Executive of Derby City Council on 17th November 2016…deliberately timed to be issued before the Council meeting on the 23rd.

The Council meeting took place on 23rd November 2016 to discuss the electoral cycle change – the Lib Dems voted against it – the motion was lost.  The use of the s106 money was not on the agenda

The local group of representatives, then spent much of the subsequent months in meetings, emailing, and phoning Council Officers, to the most senior levels, to get clarity on why there was no decision and why this money was not being spent. The answer from all quarters was, in summary –

“It’s political. It’s with Cllr Banwait”.

Many excuses were given as to why this was procedural, but none of them bore any examination against constitutional documents. There were well-founded rumours that Banwait had instructed this money to be spent elsewhere. A meeting with Cllr Banwait was called by residents, which he accepted, then subsequently refused. This was the subject of a previous Derby News article: “Why won’t Cllr Banwait explain his “personal involvement” in key decisions to local residents?”

And finally, a report goes to Cabinet on 21st June 2017 ( this was not required procedurally – there was no Cabinet report when Cllr Pegg wanted to spend a similar amount from the Mackworth s106 money on a car park). The report detailed a series of projects that were basically the same as in the Cabinet report in December 2015 – 18 months earlier!

It was presented by Cllr Banwait in the Cabinet meeting as a good example of partnership working and consultation with the ward residents. They didn’t see it that way! They saw it as a cynical delay, manipulated by Banwait, with a singular lack of transparency and openness – fuelled by a political agenda.

COMMENT

If Cllr Banwait was serious about ensuring “implementation as soon as practicable”, then project launch could have been achieved in early 2016, not 18 months later; the local neighbourhood knew how they wished to spend the money.  It could have been finished by now.

The fact is he was desperate to make this change to the Electoral Cycle.

As he stated when he proposed the idea at the Council meeting on 2 February 2016 ( 3:53:14)

“…the biggest legacy…that I could leave my City is a change in the Electoral Cycle…all of the other things pale into insignificance – I think it’s that important for Derby”

But rather than use the power of a well-argued case, based on mutual trust and co-operation, he chose to use “political pressure” leveraged with community money – and that is not becoming of a Leader of the Council who should be upholding the high values of office. Ultimately his plan failed….and that was down to the resilience and determination of a small number of residents in Derby.

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