A row broke out earlier this week after leader of the Isle of Wight Conservatives, Cllr Dave Stewart, accused leader of the council, Independent councillor Ian Stephens, of saying the Island Independents would abandon “half of” the “pledges” contained in the Indies Framework for Change election manifesto.
The media were alerted to the claims in a press release issued by Cllr Chris Whitehouse.
Following exchanges at the recent meeting of the Full Isle of Wight Council (17th July) in which the Leader, Cllr Ian Stephens, announced that “half of” the pledges in the Independents’ election manifesto, “Framework For Change” would be abandoned over the next few months, the Leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Dave Stewart, has written to the Council Leader demanding that he “identify now those elements which after just ten weeks after being elected the controlling group are saying will be ditched.”
“Cllr Stewart’s letter to Ian Stephens concludes: “It is quite disingenuous for the Independent Group to put to the electorate a Manifesto containing proposals which they now accept cannot be delivered. It is for this reason that I believe the people of the Island should be told, without further delay and obfuscation, which of your election promises you now intend to abandon.”
“Cllr Stewart also puts on record his profound concern that the Framework for Change document was published on the Council web site and in papers for the Full Council meeting as if it were a Council policy document. Speaking today, Cllr Stewart says: “It is quite inappropriate for a blatantly party political document to be presented in this way, logo and all, as if it were a Council paper. I would not dream of asking for a Conservative Party paper to be published in this way at taxpayers’ expense. We need an assurance that this sort of misuse of public resources and platforms will not happen again.”
During the meeting Cllr Whitehouse tweeted ….
#IsleOfWight Council Leader confirms "half of" independent manifesto "will be gone"
— Chris Whitehouse (@CllrWhitehouse) July 17, 2013
Cllrs Stewart and Whitehouse’s interpretations are not shared by the Island Independents. More on this later in the article.
An aspirational document
About twenty minutes into the three hour full council meeting, during the discussion about forming a Steering Group to monitor the Root and Branch Review, Cllr Stephens said the Framework for Change document was a “purely aspirational document”.
“We’re looking to use this as the basis to move forward. If we thought this was deliverable as it is, we wouldn’t be forming a Steering Group and discussing membership. We would be asking you to vote on it as a policy document for the way forward.”
Stephens: “some things” “will be ripped out”
Cllr Stephens explained that the Island Independents were asking for councillors across the chamber to agree a pathway through to the deliverance of the Root and Branch Review, adding,
“Obviously there are some things in here that will be ripped out and taken out.”
He went on to address those councillors raising concerns about the Framework For Change (FFC) document being included as an appendix to the council papers,
“Please do not immerse yourself with the content of the documentation, it’s purely aspirational. Don’t dive in a start ripping apart the documentation, let’s start to build on it, flesh it out and take things out and put things in of relevance and the way forward for this council.”
“What was relevant in aspirational terms to Island Independents may not be acceptable to some members. Let’s just work on things and get the pathway forward.”
Questioned by Cllr Whitehouse
A short while later, Cllr Whitehouse asked for Cllr Stephens to let him know exactly which items from the Framework for Change (FFC) document would no longer be deliverable.
Cllr Stephens once again confirmed that some of the contents of the FFC document were aspirational, adding,
“Some of this we found in the last ten weeks that possibly we cannot, if you like, take forward, the Root and Branch Review will help us, but I will tell you that some of the things that have been uncovered are in a pretty bad state. We need to actually address those issues.”
He then went on to say
“Let’s not start to dig into the flesh of it because half of that will be done on the – I daresay after – the first steering group meeting when we actually start to think about, flesh out where we want to go.”
Confusion over leader’s words
Before running Cllr Whitehouse’s press release, we felt it important to fact check the claims.
We spent a considerable number of hours listening to the recording we took at the meeting, playing sections back over and again, finally locating the part of the meeting that we believe Cllrs Stewart and Whitehouse were referring to.
Listen for yourself
We’ve embedded the snippet of recording for readers to hear themselves (best listened to on headphones)
“A pathetic attempt to divert our efforts”
Putting aside the confusion of what was actually said, Cllr Stephens has shared the response he sent to Cllr Stewart with OnTheWight.
“I am pleased to respond to your unfortunate misunderstanding of the Framework for Change and the content therein. I am at a loss as to why you didn’t raise your concern at Full Council.
“You are taking part in a Root & Branch Review of the Isle of Wight Council as part of a Steering Group and will have input into areas of service and budget, and this will give you an opportunity to put forward views on areas which may impact on the Framework for Change, as will the input of others….including officers.
“I know that others, including residents, IWC Officers and Members will be aware that the Framework for Change was set as aspirational to allow the rank and file to understand the position of (so called?) Island Independents. It could not be otherwise, as we did not know the depth and spread of the significant damage caused by the former Conservative administration.
“We have not criticised the former Conservative Council, and feel that your endeavours to seek out what will be delivered and what will not be delivered, and my response at Full Council (even referring to a colloquialism) is a pathetic attempt to divert our efforts to unite the Isle of Wight Council, and indeed stakeholders throughout the Island, in a positive effort to move forward from the dark place we are in at this moment.
“I hope you and your Group take the opportunity which allows you to continue to assist in an inclusive path for all.”
Bacon: Conservatives “attempt to try and play political semantics”
Cllr Jonathan Bacon told OnTheWight,
“We stand by the entire Framework for Change document. The Conservative group, despite trying to give indications that they would work together in a new approach have very quickly shown themselves to be the same old group to that led by David Pugh with nothing to offer the Island.
“This is amply illustrated by this attempt to try and play political semantics with the Leader’s words in Full Council last week. Councillor Stephens sought to be open and honest and indicate that in practical terms some parts of the Framework for Change are more likely to be achieved than others but in no way to alter the commitment to the aspirations contained in that document.
“Contrary to the snide implications of Councillors Stewart and Whitehouse there is no abandonment of any commitment and we are in no way in the situation of a few years ago when there was a complete reversal on election promises by the Conservatives in respect of changes to the education system, which broken promise the Island is now suffering the effects of.”
The Framework for Change
Cllr Stephens referred several times to the aims set out in the Framework for Change document as ‘aspirational’.
The Executive Summary at the beginning of the document states
Parts Two and Three reflect further development of the Island Independents’ detailed approach so we are now able to set out what we aspire to do in similar detail to how we intend the council to function.
Crucially, we consider there are significant uncertainties about the true current state of council services, as exemplified by recent revelations of serious service failings, which have come as unpleasant ‘surprises’. We are therefore led to the conclusion that a full set of strategies and detailed priorities, which are grounded in reality, must be based on an honest and thorough assessment of the current position of finances, service scope and quality of each service area. It is aspirational and to suggest otherwise is to build castles of sand.
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