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Letter: GBC Lib Dems Are Committed to Effective Scrutiny

Published on: 23 May, 2024
Updated on: 28 May, 2024

From: Julia McShane

leader of the Lib Dem group at Guildford Borough Council

In response to: Row Erupts Over Overview & Scrutiny Committee Nominations

The Liberal Democrats at Guildford Borough Council are absolutely committed to the effectiveness of Overview & Scrutiny. The fact that we have doubled the number of Overview & Scrutiny committees to provide greater opportunity for backbench councillors to hold the Executive to account is evidence of that fact.

The election of committee chairs and vice chairs is not decided by the Executive as alleged by Pete Bennett [R4GV chair] but by the entire council at the selection council meeting every year. It is important to note that it is a democratic process and all councillors have a vote.

Cllr Philip Brooker is accountable for his own decision as to who he chose to nominate. He was able to nominate any councillor to be a candidate for the role of chair of each O&S committee. This did not preclude other councillors from nominating themselves to also be a candidate for the role.

In this instance it seems that there are those who misunderstood the process. This was despite receiving clarification on it from the council’s monitoring officer prior to the selection council meeting. It appears that they seem to think that their preferred candidate should have been appointed, rather than nominated, for election.

No councillor or group was prevented from making a nomination to any role. In fact this was demonstrated during the selection council meeting when a nomination from R4GV for vice chair of the resources O&S committee was put forward. As this was in addition to the one nomination already received an election took place, which R4GV lost. However, R4GV’s chair of Licensing was re-elected unopposed.

Cllr James Walsh of Labour has been a robust, independent and effective chair of O&S over the past year, in addition to having four years experience as vice-chair of O&S, and Lib Dem councillors, who are not whipped, all felt that he deserved to continue chairing one of the two new O&S committees.

Pete Bennett’s examples of where his group feels that process was unfair are factually inaccurate.

It seems that his group just didn’t like the democratic outcome.

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Responses to Letter: GBC Lib Dems Are Committed to Effective Scrutiny

  1. Pete Bennett Reply

    May 24, 2024 at 9:00 am

    The “democratic outcome” is that it was the votes of the Lib Dem majority (including the Executive) decided who should hold the Executive to account. I fully accept that this is not the worst possible outcome. Given the process and the Lib Dem majority, the Lib Dem Executive could equally have insisted on two Lib Dem councillors as the chairs and they would also have been agreed.

    But the whole point of the Overview and Scrutiny committees is to scrutinise the decisions of the Executive. Effective scrutiny is not likely when the chair may have a vested interest in not rocking the boat. For the Executive to have decided who they wanted in the role is like the Prime Minister deciding who should ask the questions at Prime Minister’s Question Time.

    The process may have been followed to the letter, but that just tells us that the process is wrong. For the Executive to have been able to force Cllr Brooker to compromise is just wrong.

    Incidentally, I do welcome the decision to replace the two Executive Advisory Boards (EABs) with the second Overview and Scrutiny committee. The EABs could have worked well in a local council without politics, but the reality was that any real information shared in them just got misused for political spin.

    Pete Bennett is the chair of Residents for Guildford & Villages (R4GV)

  2. Richard Benson Reply

    May 24, 2024 at 10:14 am

    In her letter Leader Julia McShane states that she is “absolutely committed to the effectiveness of Overview & Scrutiny”.

    After the damning Solace reports Council Leader McShane now needs to put her claim into practice.

    Essential elements of ‘effectiveness’ include ; Openness and Transparency, Honesty and Integrity.

    The most effective scrutiny of Guildford Borough Council has been, and continues to be, that provided by Martin Giles, editor of The Dragon.

    If Cllr McShane is as good as her word she should agree to be interviewed at routine intervals by Martin Giles.

    Time will tell if Cllr McShane is as good as her word, but for now the jury’s out.

  3. Geoff Tonks Reply

    May 24, 2024 at 11:22 am

    So the Lib Dem councillors were not whipped. It was pure coincidence they all supported Cllr McShane’s choice for chair of one of the Overview & Scrutiny Committees.

    The Lib Dems want to give a pretence of encouraging scrutiny and transparency. If Cllr McShane truly believed in either, then she would explain why the massive £13 million overspending in the department for which she was lead councillor was concealed until after the 2023 local election when the first of the two whistleblowers had raised the alarm the previous September.

    Could it be that the Lib Dems are desperate to avoid that question until after the general election?

  4. Wayne Smith Reply

    May 24, 2024 at 12:40 pm

    If the Lib Dems aren’t whipped, what an incredible coincidence that they voted en bloc against the North Street development planning application! – having reportedly not raised objections in the many months prior?

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      May 25, 2024 at 5:37 am

      The Lib Dems’ insistence on having their own nominees supposedly being responsible for scrutiny of their failed leadership is a stitch-up that residents will not forgive.

      This is nothing short of a disgrace.

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