Alan Melton Toughing It Out At Fenland DC

benn08:18 Monday 7th October 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: The Leader of Fenland District Council Alan Melton survived a crucial confidence vote on Friday from within his own party. Councillor Melton had been criticised by some of his Conservative colleagues, with some of them suggesting he’d lost control of the party and the Council. After two hours of tough interrogations, Mr Melton successfully defended himself, and he remains as Leader. And he’s here this morning. Morning.
ALAN MELTON: Good morning. I’m just reminiscing about owning a scooter in the 1950s. (a propos earlier item)
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. You were almost reminiscing about Leader of the Council, weren’t you?
ALAN MELTON: Absolutely. Possibly, yes.
PAUL STAINTON: What have you been doing so wrong? Why have you been upsetting people? What have you been doing?

ALAN MELTON: Well I don’t think I’ve really been upsetting people. Let’s face it, we’re halfway through, or eighteen months away from the next election, and people wanted to question the direction of the Council, quite rightly.
PAUL STAINTON: There have been some clangers though haven’t there dropped as well.
ALAN MELTON: Yes there have. There’s been some mistakes made over the last year or so. But the Council still continues to function. And you must remember that the things that people are interested in (and affect) people’s lives, the dustbins, the parks and the grass etcetera, are still delivering first class services, and I think that’s what we’ll continue to do.
PAUL STAINTON: Supermarketgate was on your watch though, wasn’t it?
ALAN MELTON: It certainly was, and there was some mistakes made there, and I think we’ve learned from those. I certainly hope we have now. That’s not gone away completely, because obviously there’s still some decisions to be made, and then of course they’ve got to get them built. But you know ..
PAUL STAINTON: You were all over the shop at the time though weren’t you?
ALAN MELTON: Yes we were.
PAUL STAINTON: They’ve been sacked. No they haven’t. This is happening. No it isn’t. Yes they are. No they’re not. It was difficult to know what day it was.
ALAN MELTON: Absolutely. It was a very very difficult time. But we’ve moved on from there now, and hopefully the supermarket will be built within the next three months.
PAUL STAINTON: Why don’t your fellow Tory colleagues like you? What have you done?
ALAN MELTON: Well in any party, whether it’s national or local, you always have people who don’t like you. I was a fervent fan of Margaret Thatcher, but not everybody liked her. So you know that’s the point. And quite frankly we live in a democracy, and our party is a democracy, and if people wish to challenge me and my methods on a regular basis, as anybody else, they are perfectly entitled to do so.
PAUL STAINTON: John Clark your finance portfolio holder, resigned last month. He was very critical of you, wasn’t he, in an email. said some of your external business links and council allowances were a bit questionable he said.

ALAN MELTON: Yes that’s right. That’s John’s opinion. But you know as far as I was concerned, you know, I run the Council and my own personal life in an ethical way. And I was very sorry that John resigned, because actually as a portfolio holder for finance he actually did a very very good job.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s he questioning Alan? What’s he worried about?
ALAN MELTON: He was worried about the future direction of the Council, some of the plannings that have been made. Quite frankly you know I hope that we had a good discussion the other evening, and hopefully cleared the air.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you running out of friends Alan?
ALAN MELTON: Well I wouldn’t say so. I’m still there. And again, it’s up to people to judge me and judge me on my record. The next official Leadership elections will be post the district elections in 2015. I may or may not be a candidate, but it will be up to members at that time to cast their votes in the way that they feel fit. We do live in a democracy you know.
PAUL STAINTON: How much though have your mistakes as Leader cost the council taxpayer of Fenland?
ALAN MELTON: They haven’t cost them anything thus far.
PAUL STAINTON: So Supermarketgate’s not cost a penny.
ALAN MELTON: Not yet. We’re going through the planning process.
PAUL STAINTON: Well not yet, but it’s going to cost, isn’t it?
ALAN MELTON: We don’t know that. We don’t know. You’re pre-judging the outcome.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you saying it’s not going to cost then, at all?
ALAN MELTON: I’ve never said that. At the end .. I’ve never said that. At the end of the day, whatever the rights and wrongs, you have two competing developers. And of course there are going to be challenges from the disappointed developer. Bear in mind that in Forest Heath they just had exactly the same argument with four different developers wanting to develop supermarkets. So this is not unique to Fenland.
PAUL STAINTON: Did they sack their planning committee in Forest Heath?
ALAN MELTON: They actually took advice from me. I was actually phoned up by their Leader and asked for advice.
ALAN MELTON: Yes. And also another authority in Norfolk which was facing I think three supermarkets actually contacted me for advice on how to handle it. And I was able to give them the benefit of my experience and the mistakes that I had made.
PAUL STAINTON: have you got lessons to learn here? have you said that you will change slightly? Are you going to adopt a different attitude going forward?
ALAN MELTON: We’ve all got lessons to learn. let’s face it, I had two hours of grilling the other evening. And you know of course members expressed their concerns. Obviously, no sensible person wouldn’t take those on board. And I recognise that some members are unhappy. And I recognise that I’ve made mistakes. But you know this debate took place. It was a good debate. It lasted a full two hours. The vote was taken, and now we move on.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s the top of your to-do list now then, as Leader of Fenland District Council?
ALAN MELTON: The top of my to-do list with the team involved is actually to get through the next budget round, where we’re facing further cuts, another 15% on top of the 30% that we’ve already endured.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s going to go?
ALAN MELTON: Well at this present moment in time we’re just formulating our thoughts on budget. But one of the undertakings I will give the people of Fenland is that we will do everything within our powers to continue to deliver the first class front line services that we have been doing for so long.
PAUL STAINTON: And you’ll listen to what everybody has to say from now on will you?
ALAN MELTON: Of course. Of course. Of course I will. We have to. We have to move on and we have to take those comments on board.
PAUL STAINTON: Because you’ve been accused of being a bit of a dictator, haven’t you?
ALAN MELTON: Well I mean the thing is .. yes of course. yes, but you always get that. I know other leaders are called that, not so far away from where I am. So that’s bound to happen.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you talking about Marco Cereste there?
ALAN MELTON: No I’m not talking about Marco Cereste. Marco Cereste is a friend of mine. Marco Cereste runs a very good authority as well. But I mean, you know, you’re put in the position, elected by the members, of a .. as a strong leadership model. That’s what we have. You know, the Leader is responsible for the day-to-day decisions and the running of the Council. The councillors are responsible for formulating policy. And I recognise that there’s got to be a balance somewhere between the two, and probably I’ve overstepped the mark. But I’ve learned from that. Members have learned from that. We move on.
PAUL STAINTON: Alan, nice to talk to you, and as ever a robust defence of his management if you like of Fenland District Council. Alan Melton, who’s still the Leader of the Conservatives and still the Leader of Fenland District Council.