When you go to a council meeting you usually have a pretty good idea of what will happen, and certainly don’t expect any motion you or any other opposition member has put to be passed, but you can never be quite sure what tactics will be used in the process.
As you know, last month the tactic was to filibuster and prevent my and my colleague’s motions being debated. This month, we knew that could not happen to my motion (thought it could have happened to Mark Wilkes’ Motion on the DLI Museum) because the constitution gave me the absolute right to move the motion this month – it was top of the list – and so I wanted to use it to say what I felt had to be heard. I very much hope it was also what teaching assistants wanted to be said. I posted the speech earlier, but it’s here if you haven’t already read it.
I was ably seconded by my colleague, Amanda Hopgood, and then Alex Watson, before Councillor Jane Brown replied on behalf of the Cabinet. Her approach (in addition to branding me as cynical and hypocritical) was to put an amendment which effectively destroyed the motion, safe in the knowledge that the Labour group would force it through and effectively hi-jack the motion. That’s the way the game is played at County Hall. Actually I think it was played outside the rules because the constitution outlaws “negativing” a motion, (i.e. turning it to the opposite meaning from the one it orginally had) but I got all the legal help I would expect at County Hall when the constitutionality of the amendment was challenged. I can only say that a passing journalist expressed his surprise that the amendment had been in order
I’ll leave you to decide whether the amendment “negatives” the motion.
The original motion read: “This council calls upon its cabinet and officers to withdraw the current proposals under the Review of classroom based staff, and instead engage with school governing bodies and subsequently trades unions to address the issues it seeks to resolve.”
After mangling it with the amendment it read: “This council calls upon its cabinet to request officers to brief governing bodies on the latest position with regard to the current proposals under the Review of Classroom Based Staff. Ultimately any decision on this issue will be made by Full Council.”
A few jibes later and the matter was done and dusted, the Labour Party’s rewritten version of the motion was voted through, and we were ready to move on to the motion on the DLI. But before we get to that, Let’s consider what has been achieved so far.
I know a lot of teaching assistants hoped that a sudden reversal of the council’s position would occur, but that was never going to happen. However, I believe change is happening.
If the current proposals had been seen by the Labour Group before they were sent out to headteachers and staff, they would never have seen the light of day. As well as being unfair and unreasonable, they are political dynamite. I’m pretty confident that the officers who arranged for them to go out knew that, and in putting out the proposal you have seen, officers skewed the decision making process. However, by the concerted efforts of teaching assistants in putting their case to councillors and the media, some of that ground has been won back. My motion played it’s part in that, and forced some unpalatable truths to be heard about the unfair nature of the proposals, the low pay of many teaching assistants already, damage to schools and the whole appalling widening of the gender pay gap. Now the real decision making has to take place – Just how far is the Labour Group willing to push its leaders and its officers in search of compromise? I’ve enough respect for many Labour councillors to believe that there is a very vigorous debate going on behind closed doors (I’m told some even tried to persuade their colleagues that the group should vote for my motion), but the proof of the pudding will be in exactly what they bring back as the “real” proposals to be decided by the council.
The moral therefore is – keep up the pressure. There are some willing ears listening even amongst people who have stone-walled in response to letters and emails. When the final proposals come back to council there will be nowhere to hide. Every vote will be named and counted. So keep up the pressure.
And now back to the very important issue of the DLI Museum. Things started better on this one. With two cameras in the chamber, and a mountain of bad publicity arising from last month’s filibuster, the council was not going to make the same mistake twice. When suspension of standing orders was proposed to allow time for the debate, the leader graciously assented.
Again, the original motion to delay the closure of the Museum to enable full consultation and the exploration of all possible options was proposed and seconded. I was fully on side with the motion. It made good sense to me that in a world where we consult on everything from the siting of bus stops to the closure of libraries, from whether I object to the discontinuance of a school crossing patrol on the defunct Blackfyne School site to changes in youth service provision, it makes sense to consult on closure of the DLI Museum because there might be ideas, groups or even funders who would get behind some different way off running it. Once that case had been made, however, it was Groundhog Day. Councillor Foster for the Cabinet moved an amendment that also mangled the motion out of all recognition. It backed the closure programme and the other (temporary) initiatives which are proposed. In fairness there were some excellent and impassioned speeches from all sides, but I’m not sure that any of the veterans who attended will have been convinced that they will benefit from swapping the very concrete museum they have now, for an all singing all dancing prospectus of future excellence. The probably learned at their mother’s knee the old saying; “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.