Ever wondered what a Borough Councillor's role entails?

Ever wondered what a Borough Councillor's role entails?
I did! I was elected as a Councillor for the Lynn South & West ward of the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk on 5th May 2011.

A little bit about me:
I have lived in South Lynn for 7 years with my wife and work locally for the Norfolk Primary Care Trust as an IT Manager.

I am a Labour Councillor and whilst the local Labour group made some encouraging gains in the May elections (moving from 4 councillors to 13) we are still very much a minority opposition as the Tories hold 42 of the 64 council seats.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The day democracy died...

At the Borough's Annual Council this evening, members voted to change the constitution of the council such that the opposition's voice in the council's processes, most notably council scrutiny, is effectively silenced. I have written before (see http://ow.ly/2YGDK4) about the Leader's intention to change the proportionality of Cabinet Scrutiny Committee and had been prepared to speak against this proposal this evening. 

What happened next was that the Leader , aided by his erstwhile deputy and abetted by the rest of the massed Tory ranks, curtailed any debate about the proposal before any was really allowed to take place. Using the constitution and rules of debate, before anyone else was given the opportunity to add to the debate (the Labour Group leader was given the opportunity to speak briefly), Cllr Daubney moved that the motion be put and Cllr Long seconded, meaning no further debate could take place. 

Hardly a democratic way to behave when bringing forward a proposal which restricts the opportunity for democratic input from those opposed to the administration but I suppose not surprising given the past history of this autocratic group.

For the record, my speech against the proposal is included below:

Thank you Mr Mayor 

As many members will know I have grave concerns about the proposal to change the proportionality of Cabinet Scrutiny Committee and the effect that this will have on the credibility and accountability of this council as a whole at a time when these could be described as fragile at best.

However, having looked at this proposal very carefully (wanting to make sure that there was no clause included proposing exile to a Gulag in the event of dissent), I am minded not to propose a specific amendment to that particular section of the report - but to ask members to consider voting against the proposal as a whole. 

The reason for doing so is that it seems like madness to me to propose and make changes to the panel and scrutiny structure, ahead of a planned review which will take place this summer - something that appears to be acknowledged in the report insomuch as having created two panels out of the existing REC structure, they will continue to meet as a single body, being chaired on an alternate basis until the review has concluded.    

Further, it is worrying that this proposal has been brought as a response to a peer review that has not been widely shared  amongst members (new and old) and as a proposal that appears to have been rushed through as some sort of supreme executive power, without being given the benefit of comment, scrutiny, development etc of the councils existing structure of panels, cabinet & cabinet scrutiny before landing in front of members at this council meeting.

Whilst it should be acknowledged that the party opposite have increased their majority in this chamber at the recent election, there are still enough councillors in opposition to allow for input into policy development and proper scrutiny, reflecting the views of our borough's residents who did not vote for conservative candidates at that election.

Following the meeting, one prominent Tory asked me whether I 'really believed that we would allow a debate on a Civic evening', referring to the fact that the Annual Council is usually a ceremonial event, dedicated to the election and appointment of the Mayor for the forthcoming municipal year. My answer was and is simple... 'If you do not want to debate the proposal at a Civic evening, do not put the proposal forward at a Civic evening', further proof, if it were needed, that this administration is not interested in serving the principles of democracy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

This borough is sleepwalking into a local dictatorship

So the dust has settled on a disappointing election campaign, I've got over the nerve wracking count and the fact that I squeezed into office by just three votes and... then the bombshell was dropped. The council leader has decided to put forward a proposal that will see the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee changed from a body that specifically eschews the political proportionality rule to one that is made up on a proportionate basis.

The point of the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee is to assure the council and the people it represents that the decisions being taken by the Cabinet are given full consideration by elected representatives that have not been involved in making the decision - accepting that the current administration enjoys a huge majority at the council it is important that the decisions it makes are properly scrutinised and it is important that this is done by the opposition. Changing the proportionality of this body not only drastically reduces the number of opposition councillors entitled to sit on the committee but almost guarantees that any recommendation made by the committee can be voted down by a Conservative majority.

This is just a further erosion of the principles of democratic process in recent times as the same administration has:

Changed the constitution to remove the requirement for vice chairs of policy development, overview and scrutiny panels to be drawn from opposition councillors. This was done under the guise of the pool of opposition councillors being too small (when there were just 10) and was followed by rejection of a request to revert to this requirement when the pool of opposition councilllors doubled in size after the 2011 elections.
Selected non-councillors to represent the council on outside bodies, ahead of sitting opposition  councillors from wards that bear the focus of those outside bodies.
Removed councillors from outside bodies because they had the audacity to resign from the conservative group.
Controlled the supposedly non-political posts of Mayor & Deputy Mayor in each of the four years following the 2011 elections, despite the opposition making up at least one quarter of the council.

I am not sure why an administration with a majority of 38 councillors over and above the number of opposition members seems to be running scared of the idea of scrutiny; perhaps we opposition councillors should take it as a compliment that recent scrutiny has been too effective and made the cabinet and administration a little too uncomfortable.

I, for one, will be voting against the proposals and will be urging as many of my fellow councillors to do the same. If you are a resident of the Borough, I would urge you to contact your local councillor(s) and ask them to vote against it too.