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Opinion: A Return To Committee Governance Would Be Good For The Borough

Published on: 4 Oct, 2014
Updated on: 7 Oct, 2014

Localism Act 2011 with handsBy Gordon Bridger

Hon Alderman Gordon Bridger is a former mayor and Lib Dem borough councillor.

The Motion put forward by the Liberal Democrats for reforming the Guildford Borough Council  next Tuesday, December 7 is that it revert to the age old committee system, rashly and unwisely abolished by the Labour Government in favour of an Executive system.

This change was forced upon all councils by the Labour Government who were having problems with the many councils they  ran in the north of England. Conservative, Liberal and even Labour councillors in Guildford were opposed to the change.  My contacts with many Mayors in Surrey, almost all Conservative, confirmed that they regarded it as an unnecessary and even retrograde step.

Opinion Logo 2The reform, hurriedly rushed in, entailed council officers reporting directly to a small number of councillors (up to ten in our case) who could make decisions without going through the normal filtering system of special committees.  Scrutiny committees were set up which could call in Executive decisions for examination but they were only given advisory powers, usually ignored.

While the system is undoubtedly faster it has three serious drawbacks:

Firstly, the filtering committee system enabled councillors, who know their wards much better than anyone else, to check errors and ensure that residents views were fairly  represented.

Secondly, the work load on the Executive is so huge that there is not much time available to check officers reports and recommendations. Mistakes occur and officers are given more power than is necessary and desirable.

Thirdly, it effectively sidelines some 38, or so, councillors who are bypassed and have to stand by and wonder why they were elected. It was certainly an important reason why I retired as a councillor.

For example: the huge contract to manage the £25m former Civic Hall never went through a committee system; more recently a Roll of Honour for famous scientists has appeared in the Guildhall and no councillor I contacted knew how it had got there.

After much diligence officers informed me they were chosen by a panel consisting of the GBC chief executive (as was), the vice chancellor (president now) of the University of Surrey,  the chairman of the business forum and a professor from UNIS. Councillors are not involved at all.

Is this a satisfactory system? There are other examples.

This motion is not political and I hope that all councillors will support the proposal which will, if passed, allow a better run and more democratic council.

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Responses to Opinion: A Return To Committee Governance Would Be Good For The Borough

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    October 4, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    I fully endorse the reasoning of my fellow hon. alderman on this issue.

    Currently the council is dominated by a select few from an outlying district some miles away across open country.

    When I raised this point a few months ago I was told that the location of these outlying elected representatives was secondary to their ability to contribute to the well being of Guildford.

    Who am I to question such logic?

  2. Colin Cross Reply

    October 4, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    Mr Parkes geographical and political compasses are both functioning 100%.

    We neither fare well as a borough by this Executive governance or the Ash cabal.

    Surely it is time for sanity to return and put an end to the twin threats?

    May 7th awaits.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem borough councillor fro Lovelace.

  3. Paul Spooner Reply

    October 6, 2014 at 10:20 am

    It is surprising that Hon. Alderman Parke has such a short memory. Whilst Cllr Cross may be forgiven for not knowing the ‘make up’ of GBC Executive over the years (although he has been involved at Parish Council level for a very long time) I am afraid I struggle to accept that in Mr Parke’s case.

    Let’s look at the Executive of February 2010 for example under Cllr Hodges’ Leadership. That included three members of the same ward (Cllrs French, Powell and Wicks of Clandon & Horsley) along with Cllr Patrick (Send) and Cllr Wright (Tillingbourne) representing a clear majority from the East of the Borough (the Executive comprised nine councillors, at the time).

    Did Mr Parke complain at that time that the Council was ‘dominated by a select few from an outlying district some miles away across open country’? Or is your disdain only aimed at the good people of the West of the Borough? The three wards of Ash South & Tongham, Ash Wharf and Ash Vale do represent a significant percentage of the borough, after all.

    Personally, I have no issue with the Executive ‘make up’ of Feb 2010 or now, I merely wish to demonstrate that membership ‘balance’ of a leadership group changes over time and will no doubt continue to change going forward.

    Much more important is representation from across the Borough and a Borough wide view (and not only a ward or Guildford town centre view) in the Executive decision making process, from whoever sits on Executive at any time.

  4. John Robson Reply

    October 8, 2014 at 9:38 am

    There’s no future in History, in times of difficulty why do politicians always hark back to the past, why don’t they take ownership of the current issues, that’s what they were elected to do. Watching the webcast last night….The long winter nights are flying by!!!

    It’s apparent that the perception of this council being an autocracy isn’t limited to the general public, a large body of councillors from all parties appear to be disenfranchised.

    If the Executive intends to rule with an iron fist why don’t we dispense with the local elections and remove 40 of the 48 chairs from the council chamber, it will save a lot of time an money, it’s only democracy.

  5. Ben Paton Reply

    October 12, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    The Localism Act passed in 2011 gave residents the right to have a referendum on the manner in which their local council is managed/structured. If 5% of the electors sign a petition the Council must call a referendum.
    A petition is currently circulating calling for the council to return to a committee system. Thousands of voters have already signed.
    Why has it been necessary to set up a petition? Because the present executive led by Mr Mansbridge has failed. As one writer to the Dragon recently summed it up the draft local plan is toast. That the Executive should have sent out a draft local plan which is obviously unsound is a sufficient indictment. The Council’s own Scrutiny committee was ignored. The valid criticisms of countless reviewers of the plan were all ignored. The leadership ploughed on regardless. The public must be protected from such incompetence and arrogance. A committee system may not guarantee an improvement but it could hardly do worse.

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