Should We Have 1st Class and 2nd Class Councillors?

The next full meeting of the District Council is tomorrow evening. There’s a very important item there – it’s item 10 on the agenda. The council officers are proposing that we change the structure of the council.

At the moment all 39 councillors are equal – we all sit on various committees, and have a say in deciding things. However, because of government pressure, the idea now is change things over to a cabinet system, as in Southend.

There would be 9 important councillors who will sit on an “executive board”. There would be some other councillors who will sit on the “Review Committee to keep an eye on what the executive is doing.

But the majority of councillors would lose their influence on the main policy issues. So what would they be doing in future? Well, the council will keep the committee that deals with planning applications, so they can still keep busy with those. And there is a proposal to set up three “Area Committees” – one for Rayleigh and Rawreth, one for Hullbridge, Hockley and Hawkwell , and one for Rochford, Ashingdon, Canewdon, Foulness, Stambridge, Paglesham, Barling, Sutton and Great Wakering . These committees would deal with local issues , but it’s not clear how effective they will be. For example, will council car parking charges be set centrally, or will the Rayleigh and Rawreth area committee be able to decide how much should be charged in Rayleigh? (the answer is, ‘almost certainly centrally’).

So these area committees will give the “2nd Class” councillors something to do. They might even be more effective in getting small things done, such as pavement repairs. Some councillors might be happy to do just that.

Will this scheme get passed? The officers say this is the wisest thing to do. However the Lib Dem councillors think this is jumping the gun, it’s not yet certain that the government will force us to do this. (You get visions of the SAS breaking through the council chamber windows during a meeting of the Leisure, Tourism and Heritage Commitee, seizing the Chairman Tracy Capon and yeeling out “This is an illegal meeting, you are all under arrest “)

We also understand that the Conservatives are split on this issue. Will the Tory leadership be able to enforce a whip this time- or will the Tory backbenchers think that they are turkeys being asked to vote for Christmas?