A ‘high-handed’ attempt to change Horsham District Council’s constitution was rejected last night.
An officers’ report had suggested councillors agree to delete the requirement for the chairman of HDC’s Scrutiny and Overview Committee to be from a minority party.
This could have left the door open for a Conservative councillor to be in charge of scrutinising their own party’s decisions and followed a sweeping victory for the Tories in the local election earlier this month, where they took 39 of the 44 seats at HDC.
But David Skipp (LDem, Horsham Park), new Lib Dem Group leader on the council, argued against the proposal and described it as ‘quite worrying’ that it had been put in front of members without any prior consultation with councillors.
He said: “It appears to my mind high-handed and almost undemocratic. I feel this document has been rushed through as a knee jerk reaction to the local election results.”
He continued: “This particular proposal to my mind has been presented in the wrong way at the wrong time. Furthermore what signals are we giving to the electorate if we accept this proposal?”
Dr Skipp said the public would not take kindly to seeing the majority group appoint a committee chairman who was in effect appraising and scrutinising itself, and a chairman from a minority party would be seen at least as a balancing figure.
He continued: “The public may well say it’s business as usual, more of the same old, same old.”
His comments were supported by Philip Circus (Con, Chanctonbury) who said: “I think this proposal has been raised by the leader and the officers with the very best intentions but I think it may be misunderstood. I think it may give the wrong impression.”
He added: “It’s not just about what we do here it’s about the perception and I think having an independent, someone who is not a member of the majority group, it adds greatly to the perception of scrutiny.”
Mike Morgan (Ind, Henfield) said the changes would ‘not go down well with the public’, while Andrew Baldwin (Con, Holbrook East) added: “If we are acting with integrity we should not agree with this recommendation.”
Dr Skipp proposed they defer any decision, and examine the entire constitution to see if it needed to be reviewed or amended.
This was accepted by the majority of councillors.
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