Friday, 17 May, 2013
At Wednesday’s first Full Council following the elections the new Labour administration pushed through two important agenda items; one that paid Cabinet members more money for less work and used money from the Local Government Pension Scheme to pay the chairman and vice-chairman of that committee. They then followed this with the biggest change to the constitution seen in decades, taking away the right of backbench councillors to ask questions of Cabinet members on decisions the council makes.
Labour has changed the levels of responsibility for Cabinet Members by having fewer of them, just five but spreading the workload to two new deputy roles per portfolio. Previously there was a cabinet support role but the level of responsibility was restricted to specific tasks. The new roles make it clear that there will be a shared workload reducing the overall responsibility on the lead Cabinet member role for which they will pay themselves an additional 10% per annum. Overall, they have raised the cost to the taxpayer of the members allowance scheme by 5% or £17,550 to a total of £345,000.
In parallel they then took away the right for elected members to ask questions of Cabinet members on decisions taken – an important right long enshrined in the constitution. These massive changes were only printed and circulated to councillors two hours before the start of the meeting, giving little to no time for councillors to absorb them.
Cllr Andrew Lewer, Leader of the opposition Conservative group stated:
“It is remarkable, they have in their first meeting since being elected just over a week ago managed to dismantle the constitution to give their cabinet members an easier ride and pay them more money. A fundamental aspect of the questions to Cabinet members was that it kept them on top of their game and ensured they knew and understood their portfolios and responsibilities. It is even more remarkable that within hours they broke their first pledge in which they stated ‘we will make the County Council more open and transparent.”
Anne Western and her gang make a mockery of democracy by removing the right of elected members to speak at council meetings. Margaret Thatcher believed in free speech regardless of how unpopular she made herself. Paranoia in a political leader is a very dangerous character trait.