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Cabinet control of Herefordshire Council could end soon


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Thursday 21st August 2014 in News Hereford Times by Bill Tanner

 
CABINET control of Herefordshire Council could be over ahead of the next local elections.
 
A groundbreaking motion to abolish cabinet will be put to a full council vote on September 26.
 
The motion is proposed by Cllr Terry James, Lib-Dem group leader, who headed the council’s first cabinet in 1999.
 
Support for the motion is expected from the Independent group and It’s Our County (IOC).
 
A combined opposition vote would defeat any Tory attempt to defend cabinet.
 
The Tory group currently controls the council – through cabinet – as a minority.
 
Should the abolition motion succeed, the council would have to prepare for the end of  cabinet ahead of the local election in May.
 
That will most likely mean a complete re-write of the council’s constitution.
 
Alternatives to cabinet include a wider ranging committee system and more voting power for the full council.
 
Cllr James said successive cabinets had come to forget their purpose to appear as little more than a body delegating decisions to officers rather than running the council.
 
“We see millions of pounds being spent on setting up new offices at Plough Lane and Hereford Shirehall while grass doesn’t get cut to save a few thousand,†he said.
 
Dissatisfaction with the cabinet system has simmered on the council’s “backbenches† for some years.
 
 Many members believe cabinet stifles their voice and diminishes the role of ward councillor.
 
Equally long-running are concerns over “closed doors† when key or sensitive decisions are discussed.
 
IOC leader councillor Anthony Powers said his party was already “actively exploring†alternatives to cabinet that could be presented as policy.
 
“There is a need to re-build the council’s decision-making processes. Cabinet leaves too many decisions to too few, more councillors should be getting a greater say in decisions,†said Cllr Powers.
 
Cllr Bob Matthews, Independent group leader, said his members wanted “changes in some form†to decision making ahead of the election.
 
Those changes, said Cllr Matthews, centred on ideas around a system that was based more around specific committees than a single cabinet – spreading the scope of representation.
 
Cabinet, as such, could be made up of the committee chairman with the council leader getting the casting vote, he said.
 
The role of scrutiny is widely seen as in need of an overhaul too.
 
In May, the Independents and Tories took control of the overview and scrutiny committee, ousting the IOC chairman and deputy chairman.
 
That move brought  fears over the political and strategic function of scrutiny - as a body specifically set up to challenge cabinet decision making – to the fore.
 
The concept of a cabinet was one the first executive issues to face Herefordshire Council from its start in 1998.
 
Then legislation outlined in a government white paper outlined the abolition of traditional committee and sub-committee systems, seen as diffusing responsibility and leaving voters unclear as where decision making powers lay.
 
The then group leaders were united on the idea of a cabinet that met only behind closed doors – as the white paper allowed.
 
Arguments in favour of closed doors cited the “openness†offered by mixed party scrutiny committees responsible for specific service areas.
 
 The Hereford Times led calls for cabinet to open its doors, but resistance to the body meeting in public continued to 2000 ahead of a reform motion being put to full council .
 
In January 2000, that motion was headed off in the chamber, with the then council leader Cllr James  conceding that cabinet proceedings would go public.
 
The size of cabinet, and the roles available within it, has fluctuated since with opposition leaders allowed a say at each meeting and local members when issues specific to constituencies were discussed.

 

About time - Bill Tanner is the Hereford Times.

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Brilliant!

 

I can't wait for this vote - and it's great to hear that at last, The Independants, IOC and The Lib-Dems are all singing from the same hymn sheet!

 

Will we be allowed to know who voted in favour/against I wonder......although maybe the conservatives already know the game could well and truly be up, as far as keeping the Cabinet system is concerned. This could very well be the beginning of the end.

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I shall be voting for a different system to the one we have now. The political group with most members will still hold the balance of power, that's democracy.

 

There proably will have to be some form of Cabinet and Leader. But sub committees or forums advising each cabinet member. They can't be committees which have to be politically porportionate and need an agenda and seven days notice for members to be called to meeting. ( if as an example, there is a gas leak in Widemarsh Street, I suspect people would be a little upset to have to wait a week for a committee to give consent to Gas board for road closure!. One person needs to take responsibility for this decision and be answerable for it, or a baby 'P' event in the county, can't wait for a committee to make a decision if social workers need to take children into care. A Cabinet member needs to be briefed and agree that correct procedure has been taken that day. They can report into sud committee when it is convened in a couple of days)

 

Scrutiny needs to be tightened up with Councillors having regular training, as they do for planning, to know what questions to ask and importantly, what the answer should be. I favour a 'Select Committee' approach, like Parliament.

 

All this requires a re-write of the Constution and Standing Orders. It will be far more costly than the present system. I understand that filming of meetings is on the cards but again this may be more expensive if more meetings have to be filmed.

With all meetings now taking place in Shirehall it should be more easy for public to pop in to listen to debates. Councillors will need to be better trained and more full time to be in a position to advise Cabinet Member.

 

Then there is the role of Leader! The Buck stops there, so he/she will need to attend more council lead meetings to get the feel of members views on subjects. The Chairman of Council will also have to be very strong in ensuring that things are being done properly!

 

There is also an opportunity now, to review the role of senior management, how the officers of the Council are recruited, their roles etc. I hope to present a paper to the Indepedent Group on this subject in the New Year then later to other opposition groups before the election.

 

I hope this has been a useful blog for readers and an understanding of some of the pitfalls ahead. Interesting times.

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if as an example, there is a gas leak in Widemarsh Street, I suspect people would be a little upset to have to wait a week for a committee to give consent to Gas board for road closure!.

 

Poor example - statutory undertakers do not need the councils express permission to open the highway, particularly when there is a gas leak.

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Poor example - statutory undertakers do not need the councils express permission to open the highway, particularly when there is a gas leak.

 

 

Chris Chappell just replied in an email to me by mistake, but this was his reply to twowheels last post

 

 

Try not to argue, trying to give an example.  But cabinetmember/Chairman of Committee,  still needs to be informed and who takes responsibility?  One , two, thre, or more members of a committee?  Who takes responsibility? To go to press to take the flack?  Do you know, sure I would not!  Everyone would deny thier responsibility.  Great.  Thought you wanted more open government!

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Colin, there is an updated version of this that Bill Tanner has written on the HT website today.

 

Flam and Dippy, the other motion is for a new rail station at Rotherwas which will be for passengers and freight if its accepted it will be on the old Gloucester line that was closed many years ago. So anyone living in South Wye could get off at Rotherwas or go on to Hereford.

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Blimey!

 

This idea has been around for quite a while. I remember when we were discussing Jesse Normans preferred east route road, and many of us thought that the two ideas combined would /could be a very sensible - and cost effective way forward.

 

Thanks for the info Glenda!

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Well I'm all for a return to a more democratic system as long as those councillors who are elected by the people to represent the people will also take there views & concerns more seriously instead putting there own interests first!!!…cllr Powell I know that you do just hope other cllr's can take a leaf out of your book & follow your example?!

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I'm really pleased to hear that Glenda!

 

In your opinion, do you think all of the opposition can actually come together and get this passed?

 

Should the worst happen, would opposition consider putting forward a motion of no confidence in the cabinet?

 

This is something that many of us who signed the petition 12 months ago calling for this, wanted very much to happen.

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Cllr Powell thank you for the prompt response but mostly thank you for 'never once' shying away from a question. I truly appreciate you taking the time to respond. Perhaps a few other Councillors can take a leaf out of your book, after all when most of us voted I'm sure we voted on the understanding that Councillors would answer our questions, listen to our arguments and enter into discussions no matter how hard that might be!

 

Cllr Chappell I was only pulling your leg, thanks for taking the time to engage with the posters on this forum, we may not always agree with you and you can bet your life we will vent our anger and frustration and scrutinise everything you say and do but please understand we have a good reason and the mendacious posters who grace this forum do so because they are passionate about protecting the people who have suffered at the hands of this current administration and they care about this great city, our children our elderly and our disabled. Instinct tells me your a good man Cllr Powell please keep posting, we are interested in your opinions.

 

Do I think this forum and the mendacious meddlers are having an impact on what's going on? Without a shadow of a doubt Yes!

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Dippy, in my opinion there are a few oposition councillors who have their own agenda, they have been known to say one thing and then at the crucial moment do the complete opposite. They take credit for what other councillors do and when I have told them about it they don't like it, and instead of talking to me they go to the press. I am afraid as one reporter told me " they seek the headlines but no suppstance behind it to follow up what they have said" his words not mine. I can assure you the picture is very different from inside the council but the public do not see that unfortunately. I call a spade a spade, and I am not liked for that, I do not say one thing and then do another my constituents know that. I am on public record as saying " if my constituents get up off their backside to vote for me I must give them 100% of my time" and they do get my full attention. I am not one of those councillors who "talks down" to people as far as I am concerned I am no better than anyone else and no one is better than me! I treat ALL my constituents the same regardless of whether they live in the affluent side of the Belmont ward, Newton Farm or Hunderton!

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I am not so sure that the motion will not be passed. I think so many people are fed up that at least the Independents, IOC and Lib Dems will vote for change. We have to make sure everyone is at the meeting. There will be a named vote and the result published.

 

The differences will be in what sort of Administration do we want following the election. As I mention in my earlier posting there will have to be some named individuals who make daily decisions. It's the reporting of these decisions, and the communication to other Councillors and scrutiny that is important.

 

I hope that the IOC will join the Independents in forming a sub group, to report before Christmas, to look at the way forward. I would like to think that the Lib Dems and Tories will also be on that sub group so we can have some sort of consensus. The sub group will need to report to other Councillors with the aim of agreement in February for time to re-write the Constitution and Standing Orders by May! It's a tight time scale but where there is a will...................!

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Hi Glenda, thank you for your last post - I really think we should have this information. Your efforts are much appreciated.

 

Hi Chris, you say there IS a named vote?? I am a tad confused now!!

 

Anyway, I really hope that this gets through, and all the opposition Councillors can take this opportunity to work together. As you say Chris, where there's a will, there's a way!

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Yes thanks Cllr Powell I was hoping you would do just that!

 

Cllr Chappell I wouldn't count on IOC if I were you and I certainly wouldn't trust Cllr Bowen!

I would be amazed if IOC got behind this motion, since at the moment they are conspicuous by their absence on recent topics. I am looking forward to Cllr Powell naming and shaming, it's about time the public knew exactly where the interests of our Councillors actually 'Lies'!

 

Cllr Powell do you really think IOC will get behind this motion?

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Hi Flam, see my post (NO;22) I did not name IOC but they have backed out before on a crucial vote, so I may be wrong but I don't think they will back it, especially as one of them said today "it hasn't got a chance"I like that Cllr to be named here. you don't know until you try, not to confuse you 10 Cllrs has to agree to the named vote for my request to be carried, so it is not definate there will be a named vote as I said in previous post!

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