GAGGED! I don’t ask to speak at Cabinet Meetings very often. Indeed I don’t remember having done so before! What’s the point? They usually know what I’m going to say. They’ll just ignore me anyway. .And that’s all I thought they would do this time. Other councillors ask to speak from time to time - usually chairs of committees and such like. But this asbestos issue is potentially one of the most serious problems Tamworth and other local authorities have to deal with.
I had information and I really needed to say something. I’d received the Officer’s Report the night before so I knew what they were planning. For months I had been trying to get an Asbestos Expert into Tamworth to give a seminar to our Council. I had even offered to pay half his fee!!! And I knew the issue would mean Tamworth Council squandering loads of money at the expense of the long-suffering Tamworth tax payers. So I double-checked a few facts and asked officially to speak around 11.30 the next day. Nothing unusual so far.
About an hour later I get a phone call from a Council Officer saying the Council Leader Jeremy Oates first wanted to know what I wanted to say on the issue. This was unusual. I was quite surprised. What did it matter? But I said, truthfully, I wanted the Cabinet to defer the item until councillors could be informed properly of what the legal and technical issues really were. It could save us possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Astounded! A couple of hours later I was astounded to learn I was not allowed to speak. At the Cabinet meeting Cllr Oates said this refusal was because I had only asked “just before the meeting” (a comment the fact of his prepared statement appears to contradict?.) and I should have given “24 hours notice”. This was a rule made up on the spur of the moment. It has never been used before. It would have been impossible anyway due to me only getting the report the night before. It made no sense. Any other cabinet member could - if they had the information - have said what I was to say - and nobody could have stopped them!
Stop the Press? Possibly they wanted to stop the Press hearing what I had to say? Well the press were going to find out anyway - and their silly gagging order just made it more newsworthy. As one wag colleague from the Labour group said to me - “If it was us we’d have just let you speak ............ and then ignored you”. Quite right! Now that at least would have been democratic!!
One Last Point. The very next Cabinet a non-Cabinet Councillor spoke. It was only decided by his Scrutiny Committee less than 24 hours before that he should speak to the Cabinet. One rule for.........etc. etc!!!
Anyway - the publicity from The Tory Leader’s gagging order was good because it started a debate in the papers. Here’s a letter from a Leicestershire “expert” which was printed in the Tamworth Herald.
“In response to the Herald story headlined 'Council cash row over checks for asbestos' (October 26), I would like to point out that asbestos kills more people at work than anything else in the UK.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate approximately 4,000 people die each year as a result of having inhaled these deadly fibres.
Tamworth Borough Council is right to be cautious on this issue, given the potential public health impacts of getting it wrong.
Despite what Cllr Chris Cooke has been told, white asbestos is still classified as a Class One carcinogen by a range of bodies, including the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation as well as the HSE. It is therefore prudent to consider it as a major threat to human health.”
Neil Budworth, President, IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health), Wigston, Leics.
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