Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Cllr Folkes complains at the public's expense

Cllr Folkes has been complaining to Coucil legal officers about my criticism of him. So I feel obliged to respond.   It is hard not to remark at this point that Cllr Folkes can dish out criticism but he sure can't take it. 
It is also hard not to ask whether Cllr Folkes has reflected for a moment as to whether asking the legal team to investigate his complaints against fellow members is really a good use of public money.

What it’s about
Anyway, Cllr Folkes is upset about my comments to the Scrutiny Committee about the Budget Consultation process last year. I expressed the view that  Cllr Folkes' overriding objective of the (23) meetings with the public appeared to be to establish an evidence base that, despite the availability of a central government freeze grant, showed public backing of the Cabinet's plan to raise council tax by 1.97%.
In support of my argument I used a comment made between the two LibDem councillors on social media after one of these budget meetings.  Cllr Joyce Duffin asked Cllr Folkes 'Have we still won though??'  
I assumed that Cllr Duffin was referring to the straw poll taken at these events on what rise in council tax would be acceptable because it was the only aspect of those events where there was any element of vote or competition and the Cabinet had already announced that they were in favour of a rise of 1.97%. However, Cllr Duffin has subsequently told me that she was referring to a competition to see which area could get the most people to attend their event.  I accept that was what Cllr Duffin meant and I have apologised to her and to the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee and offered to make any other reasonable amends. 
It is only fair to say that I did not know of this competition and it was not made known to members of my group.   It, perhaps, reflects the administration's concern (well founded as it turned out) that very few members of the public would attend. Possibly the public shared my cynicism about these events. I recall that one I attended in Newquay had about 30 people present but only six were members of the public as opposed to officers or members of the Council or of the parish council (who also had their own separate 'summit').
Cllr Folkes has complained to the Chief Legal Officer that he has been wronged by what I said. I am happy to confirm publicly that I do accept that Cllr Duffin's remark did not justify the inference I made and I am very sorry about that misunderstanding. 
It is also fair to say that it is clear from Cllr Folkes' reply that he also did not understand that Cllr Duffin was referring to the (secret) competition.
Given the limitations of truncated text on social media it seems we both misunderstood Cllr Duffin and in the circumstances that was not unreasonable.

Honest opinion and fair comment
However, to avoid any confusion, I remain honestly and firmly of the view that Cllr Folkes' public consultation was really just a PR exercise and mainly aimed to establish an evidence base to justify the rise in council tax.  
As a member of the Council I should not be prevented from expressing my honest view and  I do not believe that legal officers of the Council should be used by cabinet members in this way.  
Cllr Folkes should stop wasting officers' time and taxpayers' money and get on with the job he is paid by taxpayers for doing.

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