Fringe Box



Letter: Where Is the Political Leadership?

Published on: 19 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 19 Feb, 2024

From: Philip Brooker

Conservative borough councillor for Worplesdon and leader of the opposition at Guildford borough council

In response to: Labour Leader Calls for GBC Leader to Consider Stepping Aside

I am glad to see that the GBC Labour Leader, Cllr James Walsh has finally had a welcome Damascene Conversion, and has now asked for the Council Leaders to step down.

However, in October last year, the Conservative group proposed a motion for the Lib Dem council leader to step down over exactly the same issues that the Labour Group now acknowledge. The evidence was clear then, and little has changed except that a report has now been produced to confirm the obvious.

At the time of the Conservative motion, the Labour Group voted with the Lib Dems securing the leader in office when a vote against had a very real prospect of success.

This initial lack of resolve has ensured that there has been significant additional damage caused in the interim, not least by passing of an overly rosy budget and by increasing council tenants’ rent, an increase of twice the rate of inflation to re-coup some of their overspending.

Where is the political leadership? It is all very well for the Lib Dems to try to shift the blame from themselves to council officers, but they were in charge. Officers make recommendations, politicians decide.

Where was the oversight? Why do the Lib Dems avoid scrutiny? Why do they pay scant regard to the Nolan principles of conduct in public life?

In the same article, my colleague Cllr Peter Martin [leader of the Conservative group at Waverley Borough Council] raises questions about the efficacy of senior officers sharing responsibilities between Guildford and Waverley Councils, something that was passed by the Lib Dem-led administration previously. This was approved despite no cost-benefit analysis ever having been carried out.

I agree with Cllr Martin. The Conservative group at GBC also proposed a motion late last year for this fatuity to cease. Anyone who has experience in the private sector will tell you that nothing ever works if a person has two bosses.

Accountability can be avoided, effort is diluted, decision-taking can be rushed and taken for expediency rather than taking the time to properly evaluate the consequences of such decisions.

How can we be sure that many of the problems now being experienced by the council have not been caused by stretching the officers’ time too thinly? Why have so many senior officers recently resigned?

And into this mire, we now have a new chief executive [Pedro Wrobel] starting today. He has been placed into an almost impossible position with only one Strategic Director left to help him assimilate the situation.

We wish him well, for he will indeed need it, for his sake, and for the benefit of all Guildford residents. If I were asked, the first piece of advice I would give him is to immediately set in motion a process to dissolve this nonsense of shared council officials. We need dedicated officers concentrating full-time on the issues affecting Guildford.

Cllr Walsh’s suggestion that the Lib Dem Leaders should step aside poses the question of who would fill the void.

The current opposition groups have at least six members who have previous executive, or national government ministerial experience.  Is it not time to consider a coalition of the competent as an alternative? It would certainly help our new chief executive in his burdensome challenge, but would they be able to rely on the majority of Lib Dem councillors acting with a non-partisan mindset?

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