Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Tory County Councillor condemns minority alliance politics

County Cllr. Alycia James
Conservative County Councillor Alycia James (Lancaster Rural North) is calling for changes to be made to the way Lancashire County Council is run after Labour negotiated a minority administration last week.

The format is strangely reminiscent of the last general election election. Except that the roles of Labour and the Conservatives are reversed. In the County Council elections of 3 May 2013 Labour won 39 seats, the Conservatives 35 and the Lib Dems 6. (There are also 3 Independents and 1 Green). Taking into account the potential margin of absenteeism. abstention or rank-breaking, the only possible formula for a viable working majority required Labour and the Lib Dems to negotiate an alliance. On 23 May the County Council issued the following statement:

"Labour and the Liberal Democrats have reached an agreement that will see Labour form a minority administration, with the support of the Liberal Democrats.   Under the agreement, the Liberal Democrats will support a proposal for Jennifer Mein, Leader of the Labour Group, to become Leader of Lancashire County Council. County Councillor Mein will then form a minority administration, with a cabinet made up of Labour councillors."

The Lancashire Evening Post reported on the same day that LibDem leader Cllr Winlow had sought a cross party 'rainbow' coalition but that Labour Leader Cllr Mein had dismissed the possibility of any form of coalition with the Conservatives.  Cllr Winlow noted with regret that the Conservatives had also broken off talks but that he was still hoping for a 'progressive administration for the benefit of Lancashire residents.'

And so, at the meeting of full council later that day, Cllr Mein was elected as Council Leader and appointed an all-Labour Cabinet. Labour members were also appointed  to lead the majority of the committees, although the chair of the powerful Audit & Scrutiny Committee was awarded to Cllr Bill Winlow who is the leader of council's Liberal Democrats. The chair of the Education Scrutiny Committee went to Conservative Cllr Suzie Charles (Lancaster Rural East).  Conservative Cllr Mike Devaney was elected as Chair of the County Council.

The council is still in the process of appointing members of all its committees. There is a legal requirement that the membership of County Council committees must reflect, percentage-wise, the membership of the political parties of the councillors elected to the full council. With the exception of the Cabinet, whose members are appointed and dismissed by the Leader of the Council.

County Cllr Alycia James who, like the rest of the country, has lived under a  coalition government system for what now seems like a very long time, is of the view that the arrangement is unrepresentative and would like to scrap the current Cabinet-led system. She said:

“Our constitution is made for having a single group with a majority to run the authority. Four years ago we were given a clear mandate to run the council by the electorate but with no party in overall control this time round, voters have sent out a clear message that they do not wish one party to be in sole charge. ‘’

She continues: ‘’Lancashire County Council’s current set up is not made with a minority administration in mind. The best solution for the County would be to revert back to the traditional Committee system where all groups get to have a say in the running of Lancashire County Council. The Conservative Group, Liberal Democrats and Independents are all in favour of having such an executive committee to allow this to happen. As no party has an outright majority, we must all work together for the residents of Lancashire.”

County Cllrs Jennifer Mein + Bill Winlow
signing the agreement
‘’The Lib Dems have allowed Labour into power through the back door. To agree a so called ‘alliance’, but then to not have any of their councillors in the new Cabinet simply highlights the fact that Labour do not care about the what is best for local people. We must fight to ensure that residents are represented properly and not short changed.’

"The Urgency Committee, which was extended to 13 members at the AGM to allow the Independents to have a say, met on Friday 24 May. The viability of a proposal for an executive committee is now being investigated by officers with a report due back in July."

Cllr Winlow has published a copy of the agreement signed between Labour and the Lib Dems on his website and you can read it there. It lists the priorities of their administration. Political changes planned include:

'Open democracy for all service areas. We will work with officers to set up advisory groups, initially working within Older Peoples’ Services, with all party involvement.

'District Forums (or Committees) will be made up of County, District and Parish Councillor(s) with delegated funding and decision making powers and public access.'

It further adds that the Labour-LibDem alliance hopes to "modify the constitution to ensure that both the first and second opposition groups have a place at the cabinet table by right."

County Cllr
Richard Newman-Thompson
Along with Cllr James, parents of disabled children and carers might find some comfort in the proposals from all sides for a more inclusive administration. As we reported in February 2011, they were excluded from the previous  Conservative-majority council meeting that voted to approve a 25% reduction in council spending, predominantly targeted at social care. The then Conservative Council Leader Geoff Driver laughingly dismissed the objectors as 'rentamob'.

Labour County Cllr. Richard Newman-Thompson (Lancaster East) who sits on the Urgency Committee commented to Virtual-Lancaster:

"The Urgency committee was called after the full County Council meeting last Thursday (23 May) to look at a number of issues to do with the sizes of some committees and the possible setting up of some all party groups to discuss policy. At no point was the possibility of reverting to a committee structure for the County Council seriously discussed.

"The Conservative group appear more interested in playing political games, rather than the serious business of representing the people of Lancashire. There are a number of challenges facing Lancashire, not least of which is the massive cut in our funding from George Osborne and the Tory led coalition.

"We are a Labour run County Council, supported by the Lib Dems where we have policy areas we agree on. We will be working to protect services, provide value for money and try to repair the damage done by the Tories over the last four years."

1 comment:

keith sowden said...

Our experience in Lancaster City Council of the alliance between Labour and Green has been a disaster for the democratic process. The election of Chairs of the committees last week was pure farce. The candidates put up by Labour attracted every single Labour vote, with their little hands going up like robots. We have had 2 years of this dictatorship, which pervades every aspect of local government, even Planning Committee, where the leader, Eileen Blamire proclaims and all the hands on the Labour side go up. As an Independent, I feel that it was much more representative under the committee system ( which Richard Newman-Thompson pooh-poohs and dismisses in typical dictator fashion ). I notice that our blogs have a proviso: Please prove you are not a robot. The administrations of Lancaster and Lancashire should be subjected to this proviso!!!