Next Tuesday’s Full Council has a lot going on. But the most important thing is a motion from the Conservative Group.
You see, Rochford has something called a cabinet system. Instead of decisions by a committee, most things are decided by the ‘cabinet’, an elite group of councillors. Sometimes they decide matters in cabinet meetings, but on many items they have delegated powers, so that the councillor dealing with, say , grass cutting, can decide something on grass cutting by himself.
The plus point with this that its meant to be quicker. The negative is that the experience and local knowledge of all the 30 ‘ordinary’ councillors is ignored. The cabinet are all Conservatives and ordinary councillors aren’t allowed to speak or ask questions at cabinet meetings. Though we are allowed to watch, and, so far at least, breathe.
There are two democratic safeguards in the council constitution allowing ordinary councillors to challenge these decisions. One is that the Review Committee, currently chaired by Michael Hoy from the Green Party, can ‘call in ‘ a decision for review, discuss it, and then send it back to the cabinet. The other way is that any 3 councillors can call in a decision to the next ordinary Full Council meeting. Please note that in the case of urgent decisions, there is no right to call something in.
The constitution says that the powers should only be used in exceptional circumstances. And in fact there don’t seem to have been any call ins between May 2013 and April this year. But we haven’t had an ‘ordinary’ meeting of council since April, and there have been 4 call-ins since then. They all come to the council next Tuesday.
These 4 call-ins seem to have upset the Tories immensely. They don’t like things being challenged.. So they have put forward a motion to abolish the right of councillors to call in things to full council. It is almost certainly going to be whipped through.
So we will then have a situation where ordinary councillors will have no way of challenging a decision by one of the cabinet. That’s appalling. It’s a slap in the face for local democracy. It’s a slap in the face for anyone who voted for Liberal Democrat Chris Black, Residents councillor John Mason, UKIP’s John Hayter, Labour’s Jerry Gibson, or indeed Conservative Jack Lawmon, who isn’t in the cabinet.
If the Tories want to speed things up, hold more frequent council meetings, or allow ordinary councillors to speak at cabinet meetings!