Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Merton Council & Assistant Cabinet members

The last week a debate has been going on in Merton Council about appointing Assistant Cabinet members. Behind this was the announcement at the May Annual Council meeting from Tory leader David Williams proposing to reduce the number of Cabinet members by one and proposing to appoint three Assistant Cabinet members to Sam George, Tariq Ahmad and Diane Neil-Mills.

Anyway, although a proposal was made to appoint three Assistant Cabinet members(and constitutional amendments were needed before it could be enacted) they were also appointed to scrutiny panels at the AGM so whilst assisting in the decision-making process they also happened to be scrutinising the decisions of the Cabinet. On the vote to appoint the Cabinet the Labour group abstained.

At the meeting of the Regeneration and Public Realm Panel last Wednesday a motion was passed with cross-party support from Labour and Merton Park Independents excluding substitute member Henry Nelless(who it was proposed to appoint as an Assistant Cabinet Member), at the time the Chair Chris Edge was on his way back from Heathrow Airport and it was chaired by Mark Allison who is Vice chair of the panel(in Merton if the Chair is from the administration, the Vice Chair is from the opposition and vice-versa). The reason the motion was passed was nothing to do with the capabilities of Henry Nelless(he was my Vice Chair to me on The Way We Work panel last year and worked hard) but the concern that justifiably exists between the executive and scrutiny over the role of Assistant Cabinet members in being part of that decision making process.

Following on from the meeting a barrage of e-mails followed on the matter including one from Tory Leader Cllr David Williams calling into question the actions of 'a posse of opposition councillors' and accusing Cllr Mark Allison of 'political opportunism and intimidation', harsh words but completely untrue. The motion was passed following legal advice that it was a matter for the Panel to decide. In considering these matters the panel raise legitimate concerns and I believe it was correct in the course of action undertaken. If faith is to exist in the scrutiny process it needs to be fully transparent and separate from the executive.

Tonight, the matter was considered by the Standards Committee of the Council and following debate decided not to recommend the constitutional amendment recommending Assistant Cabinet Members. The Standards Committee is chaired by Simon Sapper a non-councillor and also includes other independent members not on the Council. An amendment was proposed seeking to exclude Assistant Cabinet Members from sitting on scrutiny panels but this was withdrawn following debate. The Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission Cllr Peter Southgate I also understand raised legitimate issues about the role of Assistant Cabinet Members and presented evidence that in many councils where Assistant Cabinet Members existed that they were excluded from scrutiny.

The matter is also due to be presented General Purposes Committee, whether it now proceeds remains to be seen but we've probably not heard the last of this debate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reads very much like a prepared press release. Completely unlike your normal prose style - it is lucid and well-argued with no spelling mistakes and no basic grammatical errors. Apart from being completely boring. Who prepared this for publication on your blog, I wonder?

11:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, you politicians (of all parties) waste so much time (and people's money) on petty procedural bickerings and niceties! If a party is in power, let them organise themselves (internally) in any manner they choose: who cares if they have 99 assistant cabinetmakers, or 198 carpenters, or 396 (self-) gravediggers! ;-)

9:40 pm  

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