Why are they behaving like a tinpot dictatorship rather than a properly accountable democratically elected body?
Well Covid has been their excuse, but the real reason is much deeper than that. Early in the pandemic they began centralising decision making and delegating powers to officers and committee chairs – even while the committees weren’t meeting. Meetings which did take place were minimised and decisions pushed through
Then they decided to scrap the Area Forums, one of the few conduits for open engagement between residents and Councillors, and the only area-specific bodies the Council had.
Then they decided to get rid of “lead members” for key services, thereby preventing other political parties from appointing their shadows. The Conservative Leader has refused to hold meetings with the other party leaders without his deputy present, which is unprecedented.
And now they are proposing to eradicate two major Working Groups – for Climate Change and Housing – where the opposition parties have been fighting strongly for meaningful action. This is a terrible idea. Both groups are only part way through carrying out their duties. Climate Change in particular is barely at the start of a challenging programme to achieve net-zero emissions from council activities by 2030, with massive areas such as the work to achieve zero emissions from the housing estate, the vehicle fleet, flood management and trees strategy not even started. Housing only had a new remit agreed last December, which included monitoring and scrutinising the delivery of the new housing service being provided by CCC, monitoring health and safety compliance targets and checking that statutory obligations are met.
Additionally the group was to oversee housing finances to ensure best value for money and work on key policies and strategy for new housing service including issues such as the housing promise, tenant engagement and the role of the Tenant Consultative Group.
Labour had called for a stand-alone Housing Committee but the Tories said the Working Group was carrying out the role. Now they want to scrap it and thereby scrap the scrutiny of a service with a budget of over £32 million – a third of all Council spending – that affects 5,500 families.
But it is the Climate Change group abolition that is most unforgivable This comes less than two years after the Tories were forced by Labour to declare a Climate Emergency and set a zero emissions target of 2030 for its own activities. Instead of regular meetings to review progress and discuss options and developments, making informed recommendations on policies, there will be “regular Councillor briefings”.
In effect, all routes to background information and to influence decisions in these critical areas will be taken away from opposition Councillors, and, at best, taken by officers and then pushed through committees on a whipped vote.
That’s not effective scrutiny. It’s not collaborative decision making. It’s not saving any costs. It’s not even the best way to access expertise across the whole Council.
But it does give the Tory leadership a firm grip of what gets discussed, what gets exposed to public gaze, and what gets decided.
Which, you have to suspect, is the real reason for it.