Saturday, June 23, 2007

Meeting frenzy

It was great weather coming back from my wet and windy bike run (typical...) and Hoy looked spectacular on Monday night. This panorama was taken between spells of reading the Monitoring and Audit Committee (M&A) handbook and papers for the meeting the next day.

I was initially complacent about this week, thinking that the M&A meeting was the only meeting, allowing me to do some work for my business, and also to sort things out for constituents. The creepie was kicked out from under me on that by finding notifications of four more meetings in my pigeon hole on Tuesday morning.

M&A proved interesting, with the £10,000/year overtime for some Tech Services employees revelation occurring. The report lacked any detail as to what was going on there, or why someone was working 20 hours a week overtime on average, so this looks like something that the committee should be investigating in the future.

Monitoring and Audit is a fairly low-flying committee generally, but with an important oversight role, as well as approving the Council's internal audit and best value review schedule, and receiving the reports. I was elected vice-chair to Alistair Gordon's chair, but it is not the first time we've met, as Alistair was one of my teachers at KGS. If you think something is rotten in the state of Orkney (Islands Council) bring it to M&A.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Halfway through the first cycle

The cycle of committee meetings continued last week, with Transport and Infrastructure (T&I) on Tuesday, Education, Recreation and Cultural Services (ERCS) on Wednesday, and Environment, Planning and Protective Services (EPPS) on Thursday.

I'm not on the first and last of these, so my focus was on ERCS on Wednesday, where I stood for vice-chair against John Eccles, and lost. I'm not distressed by this as I think John will do well, and he later made an impressive case in favour of building a nursery at the North Walls School. This was one of a number of contentious issues at the committee, and was subject to a lengthy debate, and the decision in the end was a difficult one. The recommendation to build was passed, and I was one of the supporters, swayed in part by the fact that it should have started long ago, and the fact that the compromise amendment to place the build on hold but reserve the funding for the use of the school at some future date could not be guaranteed at all.

Another contentious issue was that of the linked headship of the Evie and Firth Schools. Peace seemed to have broken out from the School Boards' perspective, but the teaching union rep on the ERCS committee was unhappy about this. Now the fact that a representative from an interest group is present on the committee at all is an issue that my colleague Jack Moodie has raised, and it is a good one- why should this committee have teaching staff and religious representatives taking part in the debate as of right, while for example parents and pupils are not represented, even by the school board? In the case of the religious representatives the anomaly is worse, as there are three, and all can vote- on a committee where the majority is 8 this can potentially make a mockery of democracy.

Anyway the committee recommended to link the headships, unanimously- the teaching representatives do not get a vote. About this time the meeting paused for lunch, after 2 1/2 hours of deliberation, returning to conclude the private business at the end of the agenda in the afternoon. A long meeting.
The recommendations from this and all other meetings now go to full council for ratification, passing through Policy and Resources first, if there are implications of resource or policy.

After that I was ready for a break (not had one since last summer, honestly) so on Saturday I headed south for my charity bike run (from Edinburgh to St Andrews), which took place in Orkney weather- constant light rain, and a force 4/5 NE'ly wind in my face for the last 45 of the 68 miles... Completed it in good time considering the wind (people were pushing their bikes on the DOWNHILL part of the Forth Road Bridge). The picture shows me at Freuchie, having enjoyed two cups of tea and a fancy at the church hall. I'm not dour, merely sardonic.

A fine relaxing way to spend a few days, when you add in the day of car breakdowns on Friday, spraining my ankle going down stairs on Saturday evening, and driving back on Monday having to hit the starter motor with a Mole wrench every time I needed to start the car.

Monday, June 11, 2007


The first cycle of meetings is well under way now, although as yet only half way through. This means that only half the vice chair positions on the main committees have been determined, with Russ Madge vice chair of Social Services and Housing (hereafter SSH), and Rob Crichton vice chair of Development (Dev), in a nail-biting vote-off with Sam Harcus, new boys both.

(You'll note the novelty of writing long committee names has waned already. I'll add a glossary somewhere!)

This starts to address some of the Orkney Today fears as to where the new councillors have gone, after the main committee chairmanships went to veterans. Education, Recreation and Cultural Services (ERCS) is likely to see a 3 way battle of the new councillors, one of whom will be myself. This will be decided on Wednesday 13th, but first there is Transport and Infrastructure (T&I) on the 12th, and Environment, Planning and Protective Services (EPPS) is on Friday 14th. Who is standing for VC on them- I couldn't possibly comment, but it'll no be me, as I'm not on these committees.

The meeting cycle started last week with SSH, and I took part as a spectator in the viewing gallery, which has just enough space for small baying mob. I resolved then always to sit at the sides so I could see who is there, and equally make it hard for my acerbic notes to be read.

First meeting where I was an active partipant took place the next day (Wed 6th), the Information Services sub-committee, where I am now vice chair to Ian Johnstone, proving people from Kirkwall and Stromness can work together. Well at least in theory, it hasn't been tested yet. Interesting meeting, and the developments discussed should see the council providing much more information through the website, more quickly, and with greater assurance it is definitive.

Development followed on Thursday, and included a container hub update. No controversial content in this meeting, but a few recommendations were overturned. Anything that happens here will still have to be ratified by the full council, but it was encouraging to see that a number of us were applying a reasonable amount of scrutiny to all the topics that were being discussed.

On Friday, it was the Land & Property sub committee, and wow, the council have their fingers in a lot of pies. Headline recommendation was not to take on the Kirkwall reservoir, on the basis that it is pure liability as it has to be maintained as a reservoir under the Reservoirs Act, rather than presenting an interesting development opportunity.

It's not just the Council meetings that have been cycling, I've been out on my bike myself, managing a couple of 20 mile runs through the week, and a 36 mile one on Saturday. This is my ridiculously compressed training regime for the annual Edinburgh to St Andrews Bike Ride on Saturday 16th, in which I am participating for the 10th time. I'll buy a tee shirt this time to celebrate.

If you want to sponsor me, send me an email!