Well that’s a bit over the top as a headline but a recent change to the Council’s constitution is consistent with a lot of what’s happening globally, nationally and locally to limit people’s democratic options.
At the Constitution & Ethics Committee it was proposed to change the way that the Council’s budget is developed. Until now it’s been a key responsibility of the General Purposes Committee as noted below.
In reality this would mean that a majority party, as is the case with the Tories on Cambridgeshire County Council, would secure support for its preferred budget at the Committee and then the opposition parties would have time to develop and propose amendments to it before the budget debate at Full Council.
But the Tories don’t like this and want an ‘officer budget’ to go to Full Council (see below) so that they, along with the opposition parties, can propose an amendment to it. The motivation for this is clear. They don’t want their budget amended, they don’t want to provide the opposition parties with information with which they might develop their own amendments and they don’t want their amendment to be subject to too much public scrutiny. It’s an abdication of leadership
It’s a silly proposal :
- it’s incompatible with the committee system which Cambridgeshire operates and which gives powers to committees to make decisions;
- it allows less time ( a few days instead of a minimum three weeks) for open scrutiny of the budget; and
- it gives officers a mandate incompatible with their roles.
The Tories have a majority and should have the confidence to work with it in the way that the system is set up. Alternatively they should ask that the Council revert to a cabinet system so that they would be subject to appropriate scrutiny. What we have instead is a de facto cabinet system without scrutiny which is incompatible with due democratic process.
The change was voted in by 4 votes to 3. The 4 votes for included the vote of the chair who made no attempt to develop a consensus. And rather strangely one Tory spoke powerfully against the change but then supported it. Such is the power of the Tory whip.