Debate on future of county council’s decision-making

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Councillors engaged in a heated debate over the future of West Sussex County Council decision-making on Friday (October 17).

UKIP’s Mike Glennon tabled a motion urging the council to return to a committee system, which was in place until 2001, rather than the current single-party cabinet format, at the full council meeting in County Hall North, Horsham.

However, leader of the council Louise Goldsmith listed issues such as the Rotherham abuse scandal, terrorism threat levels and the Ebola outbreak - and not the council’s decision-making system - as ‘real concerns’ of the public.

A total of 38 councillors voted against the motion, with 18 supporting the committee system and two abstaining.

Mr Glennon (UKIP, Lancing) said the motion would bring ‘transparency’ to the county council’s system of governance.

He said: “Most key decisions are taken behind closed doors by cabinet members.

“UKIP believes it is time to bring that decision making back out into the open.”

In response, the speech made by Ms Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West) led to cries of derision, while some UKIP councillors walked out of the meeting in protest.

She said: “We have a motion about a committee system. I would like to ask councillor Glennon, because we would like to understand how the motions he puts to this council are supporting the people out there and addressing their real concerns, how does this prevent Ebola from coming into this country?

“Things that matter are the safety and protection of our residents, the effectiveness of our services, support of our communities. When are you going to bring a motion which addresses any of the serious issues this council faces?

“We have experienced both and the process to get any decision made was long.”

Mr Glennon later condemned the speech as an ‘irrational smokescreen’.

Other Conservative councillors also opposed the motion.

Amanda Jupp (Con, Billingshurst) said: “This was considered in 2012, and as I understand it there was no merit in taking a further investigation at that time.

“I do think the system we have here is to be recommended.”

Deborah Urquhart (Con, Angmering and Findon) labelled the proposal ‘a waste of taxpayer’s money’, and Brad Watson (Con, Southwater and Ashurst) said ‘there is no advantage in going back’.

Bill Acraman (Con, Worth Forest) declared he was against the motion but said: “I am disappointed with the way the leader chose to address this debate. I am not happy with it.”

The motion did however receive the backing of some from minority parties.

Dr James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East) said: “It is up to the opposition to put down a motion on anything it wishes to.

“Many of us know quite a few Conservative backbenchers share the reservations about the cabinet system that I share.

“No system is perfect but I for one will be supporting this notice of motion.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Glennon added: “What my residents are demanding is more transparency, where open committees reach a more consensual agreement on what happens in West Sussex.

“Already, other counties across Britain have been moving over to what is essentially a more user-friendly method, which gives residents and their pressure groups much greater scope to participate in an appropriate way and to witness openly how the decisions are debated and concluded.

“In this regard, UKIP is advocating a return to a proven and much-lamented system, which enhances political accountability, something sadly lacking nowadays.”

Under the committee system councillors of all parties had their say on committees being offered places in proportion to the overall number of council seats they had won.

l Following the meeting, Sandra James, county councillor for Bourne and deputy leader of UKIP on WSCC, said: “The debate or indeed lack of debate by the Cons on the cabinet/committee motion can be viewed by accessing the WSCC webcast of the meeting held on Friday 17/10/14 - the response to the UKIP motion was indeed something that highlighted everything that is going wrong in local government with particularly the inability of the leader to hold a rational debate.

“Can I also direct you to other areas that were raised at County by UKIP that cover the ineptitude of Cons county councillors in their input into the local CDC Local Plan inspection. What is at stake is in excess of 2k additional homes for Chichester on top of the existing proposed 7k of new homes. You might have hoped this threat would have prompted a real debate on infrastructure but the Cons are in total catch up mode with their county councillors not inputting to the inspectors review nor allowed to speak at this review due to their not raising any objection on infrastructure preceding.

“Can I also direct you to a really important review of alleged children being abused in the locality which follows a tip off reported by UKIP to the Cons which I am still awaiting a response on. This demonstrates the resources which are falling well short in bringing peadophiles to account.”