Councillors dismiss bid to return Fenland District Council to committee system

Cllr Gavin Booth. Picture: Steve Williams.

Cllr Gavin Booth. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

A councillor’s bid to get the committee system re-introduced at Fenland District Council was scuppered last night.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gavin Booth tabled a motion calling for the council to look into changing from the cabinet to the committee system of governance next year.

He requested that the chief executive and monitoring officer submit a report to a cross-party membership working group “explaining how the committee system could be re-introduced”.

However, his motion was unanimously dismissed, with one councillor saying there were other more important priorities for the council to address.

Cllr Booth said: “Committees are the most democratic form of decision making and enable all councillors to be involved.

“Under the committee system, rules apply that require committees to reflect the proportionality of the council, ensuring representative decision making.

“Other councils have reverted to a committee system which has ensured both democracy and accountability for all councillors and therefore all electors.

Most Read

“Due to the leader/cabinet system too many elected members have been insufficiently involved in the decision making process and denied the right to a public vote on many important decisions.”

His motion was backed by independent Councillor Virginia Bucknor, who pointed out the committee system was “more democratic” and worked well in Norfolk and other parts of Cambridgeshire.

Cllr Bucknor, sensing Conservative opposition to the motion, speculated that Conservative councillors had been “whipped” to vote against it, drawing gasps from the chamber.

Councillor Sam Hoy branded her comment a “joke” and said she opposed the committee system because it is “not efficient”.

Councillor Steve Tierney said he favoured the cabinet system because there was “somebody to blame” for unpopular decisions.

Officers’ time would be better spent looking into the council’s finances than looking into the committee system, Councillor Kit Owen added.

Councillor Florence Newell had the final word. “I’ve worked with both systems and the committee system doesn’t work,” she said.

FDC’s opposition to the committee structure is in stark contrast to neighbouring East Cambridgeshire District Council, where the committee structure is set to be approved.

The Tories won 36 of the 39 available seats on the district council, leaving just two Liberal Democrats and an independent councillor in opposition.

In the wake of the election, Conservative group leader, Councillor James Palmer, promised to look at ways to improve scrutiny at the council, saying that he wanted to “ensure this lifeblood of democracy can be maintained”.

At the first meeting of the new look council, to be held on May 28, a package of changes are set to be agreed that will make scrutiny of decisions easier.

Under the changes, it will now require just three councillors to “call-in” a committee decision for further scrutiny and explanation, down from the five councillors the measure currently requires.

Councillor Palmer has also agreed to sacrifice a seat allocated to the Conservatives on the planning and corporate governance and finance committees in favour of independent Councillor Derrick Beckett.

Before the moves can be approved, however, a vote will have to be taken.