The Chairman introduced the item and started by reminding the Panel that the purpose of this item on the agenda was for Members to consider whether the Leader of Council could have used a different process for arriving at the decision.
Ms Michelle Thomas, a member of the public addressed the Panel, under the public speaking provision of the Overview & Scrutiny Panel.
Contributing to the discussion Members made the following submissions and observations:
· Uncle Mark performed in tribute to very much appreciated and very much skillful musicians from a different part of the world at a time when very few local people if any would ever get to see the real thing;
· His entertainment was not considered racist then. The emphasis should be that there should be no racism now in our time;
· Society learns from its history;
· The council had a responsibility to all residents not to act with haste on this matter. The recommendation instead was for the plaque to remain where it was until the criteria for reviewing any street and building names and other monuments was established;
· The music that Uncle Mark played was extremely popular and was a legitimate form of entertainment. When in character, he entertained residents and visitors in Broadstairs for over 50 years (1895-1945). As a measure of his popularity, a plaque was unveiled in Broadstairs Town;
· Broadstairs Town Council considered this issue on 24 June 2020 and agreed that the plaque should remain in situ and only be removed if a petition from Broadstairs petitioned the Council to remove it. However to date no such request by residents has been made;
· The decision by Broadstairs was passed by a very small margin;
· The Leader was thanked for his proactive decision to cover the plaque from possible vandalism;
· Could future decisions include liaising between the Leader of Council and the Town Council
· Uncle Mark was emulating black music that was popular at that time and Broadstairs Town Council gave him a platform on which to perform;
· The Panel ought to be aware of labelling those individuals who are remembering Uncle Mark as if they were racists. The Panel ought to be aware of different residents’ perceptions of what that plaque means when using the criteria that would be put in place;
· Council put this issue up to a public consultation before making a final decision on the plaque;
· This part of Thanet history can be preserved in context. This plaque can be removed from the street and put in a Museum;
· Some Members fully supported the decision made by the Leader of Council.
Responding to Panel comments, Councillor Everitt said the following:
· An operational decision was made by officers to cover the plaque in anticipation of possible vandalism in view of what was happening in the country;
· Decisions are made by individual cabinet members and officers. This is part of the governance arrangements;
· The decision talks about the public sector equality duty;
· The Leader of Council had comments from other individuals from ethnic minority groups who have thanked the Leader for covering the plaque;
· This was the right decision to make;
· The Leader and decision maker had checked the history of Uncle Mark and it had publicity material around him. It doesn’t support some of the earlier comments made during this discussion about respect being shown. It contains language which is wholly inappropriate;
· The decision had to be made against the council’s public sector equality duty and not just on the basis of public opinion. The council had to follow the law.
Councillor Bayford proposed, Councilor Campbell seconded and Members agreed that the Leader takes no further action in respect of this matter, until the policy discussed in agenda item 6 (Criteria for any Review of Street and Building Names and other Monuments) is implemented.