Elite few set for total control of town hall

June 24, 2008 10:31 PM
By Brentwood Gazette reporter in Brentwood Gazette

Total power could soon be held by an elite circle of councillors under planned changes to town hall democracy.

Just six or seven council members would control the day-to-day running of the borough if the current committee system is jettisoned in favour of a cabinet system.

Liberal Democrats and Labour party members are united in their belief that any switch to a cabinet model would erode the checks and balances essential to ensuring an effective town hall in Brentwood.

Labour councillor David Minns said: "The county council is a prime example. There are a lot of people wandering around there wondering what they can do and how they can influence things.

And Liberal Democrat leader Cllr David Kendall said: "We do not believe the move to a cabinet system in Brentwood would enhance the democratic process and have serious concerns that it would close down the debate on many of the key issues facing the borough.

"The current committee and panel system has served our community very well up to now and we see no reason to change it.

"We don't believe it is a sensible idea to put even more power into a small clique of councillors and we will be actively campaigning against the Conservatives' cabinet proposal." Cabinet members would probably be chosen from the ruling Tory party.

Proponents, including Conservative councillor Frank Kenny, argue that the decision-making process is currently painfully slow and needs to be accelerated.

They say residents can wait months for simple improvements while issues are debated through a series of committees.

Cllr Kenny said: "Aren't we here because 70,000 residents elected us? Isn't it their voice we should be talking about?

"We should be talking about how it should be a benefit to residents, not whether or not one councillor is a backbencher or not or has a job or not.

"It should be about how best to deliver for the people who put us in this position."

But Labour leader Mike Le-Surf disagreed. He said: "As a borough with under 85,000 residents, we can continue with the current committee system which allows the public to see open discussion which takes place in the council chamber."

In simple terms, the executive - the cabinet - which becomes the council's main decision-making body could follow one of two models.

A leader and cabinet executive model has a councillor as leader and two or more councillors appointed by the council to form an executive.

There could be a directly elected mayor and two or more councillors appointed by him to form an executive.

Cabinet members would be drawn from the largest political group on the council and each member of the cabinet has responsibility for an area of council work.

The executive's role is to make decisions on day-to-day matters. Certain matters, such as budget approval, would remain subject to full council approval.

Residents will be consulted on the options.