A Slap In The Face

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!

10 Comments

  1. Christine Paine

    So basically anyone in a ward without a Tory councillor is now effectively disenfranchised and Rochford is now run by a dictatorship. Surely this is abuse of power, I can’t believe the cabinet system was intended to work this way. Can’t it be reported to the Secretary of State or someone. I appreciate you may not be able to do this Chris, but can an ordinary voter complain that their democratic freedom has been effectively removed from the.

    Reply
  2. Jim Cripps

    The Junta form of decision making is already firmly in place – the answer to my question that I have been allowed to ask in the next Council meeting will no doubt
    be that the decision was taken in Cabinet
    However I am allowed a follow up response question and they don’t know what that is.

    THIS council meting needs a packed public gallery to make it clear we are not impressed with this whittling away of democracy.

    Reply
  3. Gary

    If they try to pass this through shouldn’t the non conservative cllrs request a public referendum / consultation ending with a public online vote. I found the following on the web and was shocked to read what the council can do. If this gets through as seems likely perhaps the community should set up an e-petition to capture public vote. https://www.lgbce.org.uk/about-us/about-reviews/about-community-governance-reviews. It is unlikely the Council will.

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  4. A.Matthews

    Junta thats the word I was struggling to find this morning ,lost for words .I can see you are not happy admin .Local government is in great danger through public apathy,relevance to their everyday life does not register with many .Seems a very strange way to squeeze out any opposition to this one party state .This does need greater exposure but the press in this part of the world seems to be in the same grip.I will try ton be there Tuesday ,work and providing cheap food for the masses allowing !

    Reply
  5. Chris Black

    Gary @3 . I’ve been taken advice from Lib Dems elsewhere in the UK and am now studying what’s happened at Fylde in Lancashire , where a public referendum has scrapped the cabinet system : http://www.fylde.biz/

    Alistir @4 . You could say I’m not happy , but that would be a charming understatement! I’ve been on the council for 30 years,always felt that the council chamber was fundamentally a friendly place where people could air their views and be listened to with respect. That looks set to change. I’ve also always felt that our residents have benefited from being part of a small council, rather than being lumped in with Southend or Basildon. I’m having my doubts now.

    Reply
  6. Anon1

    Hello Chris I think the most important part of this to think on is that when the Conservatives lose seats in the up and coming elections. If they lose seats then it will also make it harder for them when the opposition take control. And mark my words I believe in 2016 when all seats come up they will lose overall control you heard it here first. You will also notice that not all the Councillors on the Conservative side have put there name to it!!! Enjoy yourself on Tuesday!!

    Reply
  7. Anon1

    I would like to see a return to the old proper democratic way of about 13 yrs ago when you had a very good debate in chamber not having the Conservatives fix everything in private group meetings before full council or Executive meetings. Democracy is the best way forward. The chamber has always in the past been a very friendly place but the conservatives think they are better than everyone else. The Chairman’s reception showed how different things have become when you have a couple of table’s away from everyone else and you have all the people the conservative don’t feel they can talk to because they believe them to be under them. It’s time to except that all Cllrs are equal.

    Reply
  8. Gary

    Dear Anon 1. ALthough I and I would imaging the whole of the electorate have not seen the proposal being put forward by RDC regarding the Electoral boundaries, I have a sneaky suspicion that their proposal will address the possibility of them losing majority with the current structure by re-designing boundaries that will allow them to use their electoral canvassing data to identify wards that they have a large majority for and to cut this up and integrate into a ward that they lose by a narrow margin, thereby turning a non Conservative into a Conservative ward. We as a community need to be aware of such tactics and present to the review a proposal that most of us are in favour of. i.e, do the reverse of what I just described above. Hope you and everyone follows this.

    Reply
  9. Gary

    Well done Chris! That’s is definitely one of the benefits in having a large political organization behind you. Definitely worth thinking about and putting to the community.

    Reply
  10. Christine Paine

    Gary @ 8 – very sneaky. I never though of that one, bet they have though.

    Reply

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