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Labour Councillor Calls for Return To Committee System

Published on: 7 Apr, 2012
Updated on: 11 Apr, 2012

Cllr Christian Gilliam

Christian Gilliam, Labour Councillor for Westborough, has called for a return to a committee structured council, now possible under the Localism Act, to be considered.

He raised the matter in Council following rumbles of discontent amongst most opposition councillors. Even, it is rumoured, some backbench Tory councillors believe that power is too concentrated in the eight man Executive.

Under a committee system areas of responsibility would be delegated to a range of committees involving more members of the council who could be from the whole spectrum of political parties.

As part of a written question addressed to Council Leader Tony Rooth (Con, Pilgrims), Cllr Gilliam stated, “… Although there has not been much of an appetite to change back … the matter has raised questions regarding how Guildford Borough Council currently operates.”

“It is the opinion of many that the current system does not allow for proper scrutiny, and backbench councillors feel sidelined and unable to represent their constituents in any substantive way.”

Council Leader Tony Rooth

In his written response Tony Rooth suggested that a new ‘Audit and Corporate Governance Committee’, if created, could look at the issue and submit a report with recommendations.

Admitting that he had no experience of the previous system, he was nonetheless, “firmly of the view that the current strong leader and cabinet form of executive arrangements enables this Council to operate in a business-like manner”. He also claimed that it minimises administrative costs.

He concluded by assuring councillors that, “I take note of what is discussed at scrutiny committees and I am also involved in the scrutiny agenda setting process.”

In his verbal follow up, Cllr Gilliam dismissed the idea of referring the issue to a new committee saying,  “If the issue goes to the new committee it will be swept aside by the Executive.  You have admitted that you have no experience of the committee system … and you continue to claim that Guildford should be run as a business.

“You seem to think that Guildford residents are just annoying shareholders … But we are are not Guildford Borough Council & Sons. … businesses imply profits but where is the true representation?”

Culminating with a reference to reports of inappropriate fund raising by Tories at national level Christian Gilliard said, “In order to persuade you perhaps I should pay to have a dinner with you!”

Several other councillors then contributed. Anne Meredith (LibDem, Friary & St Nicolas) said that in light of the concerns expressed about adequate scrutiny the issue should be referred to the Constitutional Group.

Andrew French (Con, Clandon & Horsley) said, ” If we go through a lengthy scrutiny process we will spend an awful lot of time and money investigating something that has not been requested by anyone.”

Angela Gunning (Lab, Stoke), leader of the two member Labour Group, refuted Cllr French’s claim that change was not wanted. “I certainly do” she said, adding, “I do know what the previous system was like. We did make decisions.

“Why is the leader present at the agenda setting meetings? That is a conflict of interests. We have lost the knack of being proactive in terms of scrutiny.”

The council Leader, Tony Rooth, brought the debate to an end saying, “Yes we are a business: we have to run that way. It is operating this way that has allowed our performance to be so highly rated.

“Dare I say that we are performing well? So there is not too much need for scrutiny, which is a challenge to set up well.

“I don’t think that the residents would want us to chuck the baby out with the bath water with wholesale change.

“The system will never be perfect and I would like to discuss with others what can be done.

“As for Cllr Gilliam suggesting we have dinner – all I can say is,  you have never tasted my cooking!”

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Responses to Labour Councillor Calls for Return To Committee System

  1. Bernard Parke

    April 9, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    It would also make sense to have both a democratically elected Mayor and our own Town Council as Godalming, Farnham and Haslemere have.