Matters especially brought forward by the Mayor and the Leader.
(i) The Mayor congratulated Councillor Fuller on his marriage this week.
(ii) The Mayor renewed her Pledge. Mayor’s Pledge
Whilst the quorate of Councillors were in the Chamber for the March Council meeting the last time everyone was in the Chamber was for the February Council Tax setting.
In doing things differently as the Mayor, for example a video story for the Library more recently at the beginning of the month I did a video which can be seen on the Sea City Facebook page called ‘Inside the Civic Centre’ where you can remind yourselves of what the Chamber looks like. Others have been interested as it has had 7.8 thousand views.
This was to be a year with activities connected with Mayflower 400. Will Rosie who created the Mayflower mosaic trail commissioned by Councillor Peter Baillie had his work marked last week by the Sheriff.
I was able to attend an open air event at the Mayflower Memorial on August 15th the date of the 1620 sailing of the Mayflower and Speedwell. I would like to share just part of what I read as a letter to those departing.
‘Never before have we so clearly understood the anguish of the Wampanoag people, who before your arrival, were decimated by a great plague, which they did not know and could not treat. We have learnt from working with representatives of this tribe and are enriched by the experience. We commit to ensuring that all our school children learn their story’.
Before and since your journey, many people have come to Southampton in search of a new life, either following in your trail across the Atlantic or landing and remaining here to set up home. For many this has not been an easy transition. Whilst our gates have been open, that has not always been the case with hearts and minds. In this anniversary year we have sought to better understand the history of all our communities and will continue to do so; we do this to build a safer more inclusive and friendly City.
Like you, people today still suffer poverty, the threat of violence, and persecution for their religious and political beliefs. We have pledged to be a City Of Sanctuary, to be tolerant, safe and welcoming, to support refugees and asylum seekers. As Mayor, I remake this pledge today.’
Statements from the Leader of the Council, the Monitoring Officer and the Chief Executive.
(i) Councillor Hammond, Leader of the Council.
Following the cancelation of the two boat shows last week, and the subsequent debate in the city and on social media, I wanted to explain, what happened and why this decision was taken.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that we have low infection rates as a city. Currently half that of the national average. This has been due to the compliance and vigilance of the people of Southampton, but also the phenomenal effort of dedicated public servants, that as Councillors we all recognise.
The boat show is an important event in the city’s calendar and one which many people enjoy and provides a boost to the local economy. When British Marine approached the council in June, we had concerns, but worked with them to try and host an event that was as safe as possible. We agreed to the event on the proviso, that if the local or national picture deteriorated, then we reserve the right to use Public Health powers to cancel the event. We made it clear to organisers that they would be proceeding at their own risk. We made it clear that our priority was always to keep our people safe.
As Members will be aware, last week (Wednesday 9 September), the prime minister, along with the chief medical officer, presented to the nation worrying data about the rise of Covid-19 infections across the country. None of us should be in any doubt that the easing of lockdown restrictions is at an end, with a new ‘rule of 6’ being introduced from Monday of this week. Yesterday in Parliament, the Health Secretary announced that tests would be rationed because of the ongoing failure to sort out capacity issues.
Our Director of Public Health urgently reviewed the new data, considered the local context and public health officers visited the site - concluding that the two boat shows, created an unacceptable public health risk as Covid-19 cases were and are still on the rise. The events were set to attract up to 20,000 visitors from across the country coming into Southampton.
The cancellation was a public health decision, based on the evidence, expertise and training, of people who’ve worked tirelessly to keep us safe. The overriding reason for making this decision was about minimising the spread of infection. This was about the safety of those working at the show. This was about the safety of those visiting the show. This was about the safety of people working in Southampton who would be in contact with visitors from across the country.
This was also about protecting the future of the local economy. We fortunately have a low infection rate in Southampton, but like elsewhere, rates are rising again. And when rates rise, too high, the result is local lockdowns. Look at Birmingham, Bolton, Blackburn, Leicester and Luton to see the impact that this has on economies which were starting to reopen. When local lockdowns happen, venues close again, pubs and restaurants can only serve takeaway food and drinks, restrictions are placed on who we can and cannot see. The cost to the local economy would be far reaching and outweigh a 10-day event, no matter how significant and how much we all wanted it.
Madame Mayor, I would like to express my apologies to the exhibitors, organisers, visitors and local businesses who were impacted. I appreciate that the timing was frustrating and that they were disappointed it couldn’t go ahead. But this virus doesn’t respect our people or our plans. When the advice changes, the guidance altered, then so must we. We didn’t have weeks to act, we had hours and we communicated with the organisers as soon as we could.
Members will be aware that an appeal was made by British Marine to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Our evidence was submitted over the weekend to the Government and they’ve reviewed our position. I am pleased to report that our decision to cancel the Boat Show has been upheld.
As Councillors, we need to take our eye off the election in May and focus on doing the right thing in the here and now. We can try to stir divisions and target individuals or we can accept the reality of the situation and put our people before party.
Members, this pandemic is the worst seen in a hundred years. Too many have lost loved ones, endured hardships and faced setbacks. But worst of all, it is far from over yet. As a council, there are no easy decisions. But we won’t shy away from making those tough calls and providing the leadership through this crisis.
(ii) Statement from the Monitoring Officer
Councillors, I am aware that the cancellation of the Boat Shows last week were, and remain, matters of concern and there are differing and strong views on the action that the Director of Public Health took after seeking advice. Although I have not seen them I am aware that there have been many posts on social media and some comments refer to officers of the Council. In the circumstances I think it is important that as the Council’s solicitor and Monitoring Officer I take this opportunity to restate the overall parameters of the Members Code of Conduct which all councillors need to abide by in the role as an elected councillor.
Whilst the Code is not there to stifle debate or opinion there are boundaries. The General Obligations include the need to treat others with respect and the need to conduct yourself in a manner that upholds the Council’s high standards of conduct. If a councillor falls below this standard there may be a breach of the Code.
In addition the Council has adopted a Member and Officer Protocol which specifically details the expectations of both. I would again like to remind members of the overall requirements but in particular paragraph 3.2
“At the heart of the Code, and this Protocol, is the importance of mutual respect. Member / Officer relationships are to be conducted in a positive and constructive way. Therefore, it is important that any dealings between Members and Officers should observe standards of courtesy and that neither party should seek to take unfair advantage of their position or seek to exert undue influence on the other party.”
In addition 3.4 and 4.2 states…
“A Member should not raise matters relating to the conduct or capability of an Officer in a manner that is incompatible with the objectives of this Protocol. This is a longstanding tradition in public service. An Officer has no means of responding to such criticisms in public.”
“Certain statutory officers have specific roles. These are addressed in the Constitution. Their roles need to be understood and respected by all elected Members.“
The Protocol’s Conclusion at paragraph 13.1 states
“Mutual understanding, openness on these sorts of sensitive issues and basic respect are the greatest safeguard of the integrity of the Council, its Members and Officers.”
Councillors, I would request that you are mindful of the Code, the Protocol and in particular the specific parts I have highlighted. Thank you
(iii) Statement from Chief Executive
Following on from what our Solicitor and Monitoring Officer has just said I would like to briefly sum up the position as your Chief Executive.
The Council was faced with a very difficult position last week. No decision was taken lightly; it was one of last resort. A great deal of thought was given to the options and the city’s Director of Public Health has the most unenviable pressure of responsibility in this global pandemic and has worked tirelessly since January virtually 24/7 to fight this horrible virus for us all in the city as well as being the region’s specialist in epidemiology. This director had a very difficult decision to make but in the current pandemic it would have been wrong to ignore revised Government guidance, emerging new legislation, the increase in Covid cases nationally and the impact 20,000 visitors may have had on the city’s residents notwithstanding the efforts that the events organisers had gone to make the events Covid secure. There is an incredible weight on all paid executives in the system of public service at the moment, a weight to balance the health of our communities with that of the health of the economy.
As the Monitoring Officer has said the Council has high standards; I expect those of myself and my colleagues and they are to equally expected of you as elected councillors serving all of the city. Good governance stems from the very top of any organisation, I understand that and know that you do as councillors. Therefore overt and public criticism of any paid executives of the council, the Director of Public Health included, not least without all of the facts to hand is unwelcome and unjustified and does not display the appropriate behaviours regarding respect for non-political roles. I would respectfully ask members to reflect on this and refrain from doing so in the future, not least in these unprecedented times.