Abington Street – Porkies or Debacle?
During the a public meeting to discuss the NBC 2007 budget I was left stranded on my own in front of what, (and I hope anyone who was there won’t take offence), I can only describe as a ‘baying’ audience when the Leader of the Council at the time went to a recording of BBC question time.
It was a particularly aggressive and contentious meeting where, for those who have forgotten it, the key issues concerned the budget proposals, which included cutting Royal and Derngate Theatres budget by £200,000, closing the public toilets and closing down the Lings Forum.
As history shows the funding for the Theatres was cut by the £200,000 and, unsurprisingly for those of us who were left to take the ‘flak’, it didn’t lead, as the protesters claimed, to their closure.
Lings Forum has stayed open and is still subsidised through support of the Leisure Trust which continues to do a great job and delivers a fantastic service to the town.
The toilets, however, were closed and responsibility for their closure has been bandied about between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats ever since.
The truth is that Conservatives, and yes I was the Deputy Leader at the time, closed them or at least started the closures which then became irreversible when the Lib Dems took control.
What, you may be asking, is this leading to?
On Tuesday night, at the public meeting called by Cllr Danielle Stone (Labour) and Cllr Sally Beardsworth (Lib Dem) to give residents an opportunity to ask questions on the decision to spend £6 million de-pedestrianizing Abington Street, history repeated itself.
A number of things happened at the meeting which were very revealing, the first being that the Leader of the Council refused to be on the panel facing questions from the public. He instead chose, surrounded by his Conservative colleagues, to take up the front two rows of seats intended for the public.
Why did he refuse to sit on the panel?
I’m reliably informed that Cllr Mackintosh had suffered greatly from anxiety about the meeting and that a number of his own group refused to attend and support him.
What is important is that the Leader of the Borough Council and the recently anointed, Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Northampton South refused to engage with the public because he did not have any control or influence over the questions asked, the panel selection or the audience makeup. And not for the first time, either.
It is also noticeable that he clearly needed the comfort blanket of his Councillor colleagues before he was even prepared to turn up.
One wonders, in the heat of an election campaign, how the Cllr will handle the very real prospect of actually engaging with people whose votes he is attempting to win. I mean, he can’t offer all 60,000 Northampton South voters seats on his cabinet! Can he?!
Having refused to sit on the panel, Cllr Mackintosh then decided to give a speech. Not answer questions, but deliver a prepared speech. Not engage with the public, but subject them to his charismatic speaking style. After an increasingly agitated and disenchanted audience voiced their disapproval, most notably by requesting that Cllr Mackintosh tell them who he actually was, by walking out of the meeting, followed by the Conservative Councillors, he demonstrated once and for all that he lacks the moral integrity and courage to be the Leader of the Council, the Parliamentary Candidate or a public representative.
This brings me to the repeat of history.
Cllr Hadland the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, and therefore arguably the man who agreed the Abington Street contracts, who returned and faced the audience was the man who left me to justify the decisions taken in 2007.
Of course in answering questions, and perhaps because of the pressure of being deserted by his Leader, Deputy Leader and colleagues Cllr Hadland let slip a crucial piece of information which was to admit,
To quote the Herald and Post,
“Tim Hadland took his place and answered some questions, during which he said he has not seen the business case yet”.
I’ll repeat that for the avoidance of any doubt,
The Councillor responsible for agreeing to spend over £6 million of Northampton taxpayer’s money on opening up a pedestrian area to traffic hasn’t seen the business case.
Which brings me to the essential question of how an earth can we believe what Cllr Mackintosh has said on defending the issue
Cllr Mackintosh, not for the first time, has said that a wide and full consultation has taken place on the opening up of Abington Street and that most people were in favour!!
Except of course he and the Northampton Conservatives have failed to produce the evidence from the consultation.
Where have we heard that before?
Cllr Mackintosh also claims that the £6 million funding for the contract was being provided on the evidence of a stringent economic business case that shows that the opening up of Abington Street would reinvigorate and bring more people into the town.
The problem of course is that if the consultation responses aren’t available and, as we now know, the Cabinet Member responsible for Regeneration of the town centre hasn’t seen a business case, and then is this yet another case of Cllr Mackintosh being dishonest?
The Cllr Mackintosh fall-back position is of course to constantly say, even if there isn’t a consultation or business case, (then why say there was) the opening up of Abington Street was in the manifesto and that overrides everything else.
Except of course that even though it is in the manifesto it doesn’t allow an administration to go ahead with spending tax payer’s money without consultation and certainly without a business case.
I’ve been told today by a reliable source that the Northampton Conservatives are now trying to say that what Cllr Hadland said was a misunderstanding and that reports in the Local Newspapers have taken the statement ‘out of context’.
It is tidal spin and avoidance of responsibility that we have no come to expect from Cllr Mackintosh and the Northampton Conservatives who when they fail to bully people into submission cry foul.
In order to get to the truth I have today submitted the following Freedom of Information request to the Northampton Borough Council.
19 February 2014
FOI Request. Abington Street
Would you be kind enough to provide me with the following information please.
A copy of the full consultation report carried out and the date it was created prior to the Cabinet Decision being taken to proceed with awarding the contracts for the opening up to traffic of Abington Street.
A copy of the business case on which the decision to open up traffic to Abington Street was based and when the business case was considered and signed off by the Leader of the Council or designated Cabinet Member.
Cllr – Billing Ward
It appears, and I’ll go out on a limb, that Cllr Mackintosh when asked about the consultation and business case may have told ‘porkies’
I’ll be writing about this again once the FoI response has been received, but her is the major question.
If Consultation and a Sound Business Case don’t exist then is the decision to award contracts to open up Abington Street legal?