At the last meeting of the Council, the Conservative Group unanimously voted against the Liberal Democrat motion which campaigned to keep the Scrutiny Panel - the dedicated committee that allowed residents to challenge Council decisions.
Councillor Liz Green, Leader of the Opposition said,
“The new system allowing residents to challenge a Council decision is a circus, it is an erosion of our previous democracy that I was very proud of and our residents deserve better! We made it easy for residents or 100 interested people to ask the Council to look again at ¬any Council decision and a Scrutiny Panel was triggered by collecting a petition of 100 signatures.”
Ex-Conservative Councillor slams changes
And it was not just Lib Dems campaigning to keep the Scrutiny Panel; ex-Tory councillor Lynne Finnerty also wrote to the Surrey Comet saying, “I did not stand for re-election in May but could not have voted in favour of this change. It is a backward step.”
Liz Green concluded,
“I am worried that big decisions coming before the Council will not be scrutinised properly. As it is at the moment, Tories in Richmond may well have a bigger say over what happens in Kingston as both boroughs work on secret plans in Cabinet Rooms to share services.”
The new Conservative complicated system – How it works?
• A ‘residents call in’ now has to go to the next meeting of Full Council which could be a good few weeks away and where the Tories have a majority to decide if the call-in is even valid!
• The ‘call in’ organisers will be given only 5 minutes to make their case at Full Council. Members get 10 minutes to ask questions and then decide whether to allow or reject the ‘residents call in’.
• If the ‘call in’ is allowed, a Member Task and Finish Group would be set up to report back to the committee who made the original decision.
• The original committee would then consider the Task and Finish Group’s recommendations and either accept the recommendations or in the case of not accepting them, send them back to Full Council to probably be rejected by the ruling Tory majority.
The motion proposed by Councillors Liz Green and Stephen Brister
The Liberal Democrat Group notes:
i. that the Council has a duty to be accountable to its residents;
ii. that strong scrutiny and effective public engagement go hand in hand; and
iii. that the Conservative Administration’s new arrangements to disband the Scrutiny Panel and only allow public call-ins at Council are totally inadequate and do not demonstrate openness and transparency.
The Liberal Democrat Group believes:
i. the electorate has placed their implicit trust in those they have elected and scrutiny guarantees that trust is not misplaced;
ii. this Council must involve and engage with residents and partners to ensure they feel they have helped shape tough decisions; and
iii. that a proper forum for scrutiny is essential to allow both resident call-ins and an opportunity for Opposition groups to look in-depth at some decisions taken by the Conservative Administration.
The Council resolves:
i. to resume the dedicated Scrutiny Panel that was previously run under the Liberal Democrat Administration.