- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: Latest News
Our Council is so strapped for cash that earlier this year it decided to take £28,000 worth of free parking away from Blue Badge holders. Despite that, the ruling Tory Group has just forced through a change in its decision-making process which could cost up to £250,000.
That’s an awful lot of money to spend when you don’t have any in the first place. Especially so when it’s going to be spent on changing something that most people felt was working perfectly well. So there has to be a good reason to do it, doesn’t there?
To which the answer is: no-one knows. The Council Leader, Ben Fitter-Harding, has been repeatedly asked why he has imposed this change. He has produced no evidence that a problem exists, relying on a mere assertion that change will result in more efficient and effective Council. He has produced no evidence of what problems he believes are hampering efficient working. And of course, as a result, he is utterly unable to provide any evidence that the change he proposes is the best solution.
You may wonder whether this vacuum of rationality is because the sole aim of the proposed solution is to give him and a few of his supporters much more power.
[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”4″ display=”basic_imagebrowser”]All this has been done in the guise of providing strong leadership. But Cllr Fitter-Harding exhibits none of the characteristics of a genuinely strong leader. He can’t abide differing points of view, even within his own Party. He has systematically shut down the Forums for public debate. He has abolished Councillor working groups on key issues. He has allowed the Regeneration committee to be cancelled 3 times in five meeting cycles, at a time when “build back better” is so important for our District. Time after time he has shied away from presenting his arguments to the public and from any questioning by Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors. Now, he’s even refusing to allow anyone even to have a say on whether to change the decision-making system or keep what we have: the change is simply going to happen.
Despite saying initially that he wanted to have cross-Party working, he has forced through every policy, not only with without making concessions to other views but often without even justifying his own position. These are the actions of a weak leader, unable to muster any argument beyond “I have already decided” and then use crude weight of numbers to force through his whims.
We agree, of course, that if there is genuine scope for improvement in the way our Council runs then we should consider it. But the way to do that is through analysis and consensus. Opposition Councillors represent 65% of the voters of the District. We also have skills and experience which could help to develop better ways of working. Instead of forcing through this power grab, a confident leader would have discussed with us how best to address whatever problems might exist. Instead, we have the imposition of a prejudged decision which removes meaningful scrutiny of decisions not only from the opposition Councillors, but from at least 14 of the Conservatives as well.
This is not democracy. Worse, it’s a disservice to our residents. Whatever the Tories claim the merits of a Leader and Cabinet system might be – and thus far they have given absolutely no clues – it is a behind-closed-doors decision making process. Local Government must be open and accessible to residents. Its decisions must be proven in the public forum and subject to accountability by the public.
A Cabinet system fails both these requirements. It presumes that a small number of Councillors, selected on the whim of the Leader and with no proven skills and experience in the areas they will oversee, are more capable of managing public services worth upwards of £175 million a year than the professional officers who have years of training, qualification and experience behind them. This is utter nonsense. Worse, it suggests that Councillors who (wrongly in my view) are complaining they have no control over the services the Council delivers are suddenly going to be able to improve matters. If they were capable of that they’d already have done it. Their failure is not the result of the system, but of their own shortcomings. And no change of system is going to remedy that.
Our residents deserve better than this.