A Tory priority in tough times: Re-arrange the meeting structure

April 6, 2013 8:43 PM

Liberal Democrat councillors have blasted the Tories for spending residents' money on re-arranging the council's meeting structure at such a difficult time and coming up with a net result of just SIX less meetings in a year and for the fact that the new structure is not even yet fully formed - necessitating THIRTEEN MEETINGS in three weeks to sort it out before the new council year.

Currently, Brentwood Council operates a committee system - the one that over 700 people said they wanted when the previous Tory leader mooted a cabinet system, forcing the Tories into a U-Turn. It works on the principle of having specific committees making decisions on relevant issues and those elected councillors on the committee (usually 11 or 12 in total) voting on the matters. This means that the councillors who are voting will have (or at least should have) or will gain (or at least should gain) an in-depth understanding of their subject.

Now, all those committees that have overseen council business and allowed focused councillors to vote on it (comprising Health, Housing, Environment, Assets, Retail, Community, Leisure, Localism, Parking, Communications, Refuse, Highways etc) have all been rolled in to one huge committee to push through the Tories' agenda.

Karen Chilvers

Cllr Karen Chilvers

Lib Dems feel that this will be unmanageable and will have to be split in to two panels or some business will go to a sub-panel, wiping out any saving. Worse still, this could lead to decisions being made behind closed doors with the public meeting being played out, panto style, after behind-closed-doors rehearsals.

Cllr Karen Chilvers, writing in this week's Brentwood Gazette, says this is like "re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic":

"Thousands of pounds of our money has been spent on this needless exercise when it would have been more practical to amend the committee system by reverting to five meeting cycles rather than four and removing "information" items to ensure things moved speedily and were focused on decision making."

"We will be half way through the council year, if that, before it all changes again".

Cllr Philip Mynott, who was appointed to the panel finalising the new structure, reacted angrily to the meetings that were scheduled in at incredible haste, despite a working party having been established a year ago. He said:

"Agree or not with what the Tories are doing, we are talking here about the extremely serious matter of how the council's public workings are made fit for purpose in a deeply challenging and changing environment. This pile up of meetings is occurring because, for reasons that we have not

Cllr Philip Mynott

Cllr Philip Mynott

yet been provided with the slightest explanation of, the original claimed timescale for Governance/ Constitution working group discussions has completely disappeared out of the window - this was all supposed to have been finalised by the end of February but only came to Ordinary Council on March 20th.

"I question how and why is it that this has been so badly handled, and left so ridiculously late, and, under circumstances where even calling and arranging the working group meetings can be so amazingly mishandled.
"How can we have any confidence that reasonable and feasible proposals for the new constitutional arrangements themselves can ever emerge from such a process?