Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Cornwall Council kicks off - not with a bang but a wibble

I don't think that today's first meeting of the new Cornwall Council would have been an edifying spectacle for observers. But then the Annual Meeting has little politics on the agenda and was mainly concerned with electing the leading members and appointing committees.

Pat Harvey was elected Chairman (she insists on the term) and John Dyer Vice Chairman despite being run surprisingly close by Colin Brewer who contested both posts.

As expected Alec Robertson, Leader of the Conservative Group, was elected Leader. The Liberal Democrats did not oppose that election as we accept that the combined forces of the Conservatives and Independents had performed best at the elections and deserved the chance to run the County. We made the point, however, that the people of Cornwall deserve to hear from the new administration what their plans are. There were 32 different independent manifestos and one Conservative document which said almost nothing. That isn't good enough going forward. Without a detailed plan that the people of Cornwall can judge this administration by, we run the danger of little strategic thinking and direction being set by the officers rather than by elected members. We will allow them a little time to come up with such a document, but not much!

It was interesting to note, however, that the Conservatives had not read their rules or constitution. Alec Robertson nominated 9 members to form the executive but failed to name one of them as the Deputy Leader as the rules dictate. A little matter maybe, but we were determined that they should not be able to ride roughshod over the constitution.

Which sort of brings me to the main talking point of today's meeting. Despite a briefing by the Monitoring Officer that the Annual Meeting was not the place to seek to change the constitution, the new administration seemed hell bent on doing so. As well as the universally agreed plan to increase the number of members on one committee to 21 from 15, they insisted on trying to implement a plan to allow members of the largest party to chair scrutiny committees. The Liberal Democrats (and a few independents) opposed this as we believe that having the same party run the council and chair scrutiny will lead to lax scrutiny. I made a speech, my first real contribution, saying that lax scrutiny can lead to bad decisions and failure for the council. Rigorous scrutiny does not mean an overly oppositionist approach, but it does mean that slipshod decisions are more likely to be avoided and there will be more explanation and chance for questioning by the public.

Naturally the administration held the day, but we hope that we made it clear both that we objected to being bounced into changes at an inappropriate forum and that we feel that proper scrutiny is key.

No comments: