Act quick to have say on Brentwood council power feud

September 3, 2008 1:05 PM
By Natalie Hoodless in Brentwood Gazette

CONSTITUENTS have just three weeks to decide how they want their council to be run in future.

A public consultation has been launched over proposed changes to the structure of Brentwood council. It will dramatically affect how key decisions are made.

The opposition Lib Dems claim the public do not have enough time to get to grips with the proposals and put forward their views.

David Kendall, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "I am not happy about the way the consultation is being handled.

"It was supposed to start in July yet it is only just beginning. Two months have been lost."

Consultation forms are being sent out with the next edition of council magazine Vision, and residents have until September 24 to send in their responses.

"Three weeks isn't enough time," said Cllr Kendall.

"I did ask for a public meeting to be held, I wanted the three party leaders to do a short speech and answer residents' questions.

"And there will be questions. People do not have enough information. A lot of people will not fully appreciate the difference unless they have been to a council meeting and seen how we work."

The ruling Tories want to introduce a cabinet system whereby the council would appoint a leader and cabinet of up to nine members who would take decisions on the council's behalf.

But the Lib Dems disapprove, Cllr Kendall explained: "It would put even more power into the hands of a small clique of councillors.

"It would mean the majority of councillors were excluded from the decision making and voting process.

"All of the panels and committees would go, except planning and licensing."

The consultation also looks at the option of having an elected mayor and cabinet, which would give significant decision-making powers to one individual with a cabinet of two or more councillors working with the chosen mayor. Again, the Lib Dems oppose this system.

Cllr Kendall added: "Our other concern is there are no details in the consultation about how overview and scrutiny would work."

But council leader Cllr Brandon Lewis said: "The level of response from the people of Brentwood, even on very emotive issues such as the travellers, is very low.

"Brentwood has a well-run council and people are relatively happy to let us get on with the job."

He pointed out that the council has been discussing the proposals since June, giving people ample time to get to grips with the idea of a cabinet structure.