Tim's Council Diary: Progress Towards the Committee System

27 Oct 2023
Polling station sign

Another week, another meeting.

Changing the way our Council is run feels like a distraction from other business, but its really not.

Opening up all decisions made by our Council to representatives from all groups, to question, to propose alternatives, and to vote for or against proposals is a fundamental opening up of our Council to all Councillors. Currently the Cabinet (of 9 members) can make decsions that the rest of the Council can have no impact on, nor even stop.

That's wrong: I said it was wrong in opposition, and I say its wrong as Deputy Leader. We are working to fix it, and by doing so the Council will, I hope, make better decisions in future.

So as an example, in 2019 Council voted to stop the Princes parade development. Under the Cabinet system, the Conservative controlled Cabinet didn't have to listen to that vote, and carried on regardless. That decision has cost the Council millions which it would have been saved if it listened to Council. A Committee system would have respected the view of the full Council. A committee system 4 years ago (and I called for it then too!) would have saved us MILLIONS.

It's also, and this is important, what people voted for in May. The Labour Party, Greens and Lib Dems were all in favour of changing the way the Council was run. We all committed to it. Between us we won 23 seats out of 30 on the Council. When the Council voted to move ahead on the committee system, we did so with 26 votes to 2 against. Will of the people. Will of the Council.

However, to get to that system we'll need a new way of working, and a new constitution, and have them in place by May next year. The Consititution Working Group is bringing together that structure, and trying to get a concensus on how we should work, and the framing of the constitution. Its not going to be possible to satisfy everyone: there are as many potential variants of a committee system as there are people who could write one: we won't all get exactly the system we want. But we can, and I still believe we will, get something that is close enough for everyone. There will be lessons to learn, and things to change, when we use and learn the new system. There always is, there always should be. It won't be perfect first time. But better. Much better.

We're spending some money on expert advice from Bevan Brittan, a specialist legal firm with experience in helping write Council constitutions and guiding Councils to next structures. We don't rewrite our constitution that much: it was last done over 20 years ago, so need support from outside. However, we're hopeful we can come in under the budget we set for ourselves: we'll see!