Minority parties boycott working group on council rules over row
Opposition councillors continue to boycott constitution working group and feel it shouldn’t be called cross-party
by Andy Mitchell, Local Democracy Reporter
Opposition councillors will continue to boycott a working group that suggests changes to Cherwell District Council’s constitution over claims Conservatives have “railroaded” through proposals.
A cross-party group was put together last year to consider updates to the constitution, the legal document that guides the council on how to reach decisions.
Its suggestions then moved forward to Cherwell’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee which is led by the Conservative group due to its majority over all other parties and independents combined.
It is alleged that the committee “introduced additional pieces and overturned a good chunk of the recommendations”.
Much of them were around motions – requests by councillors to discuss and push through issues – including the time dedicated to supporting them verbally, how long amendments to them can be and at what stage of council meetings they will get heard.
The voting down of suggestions from Labour and Green councillors meant they were not heard by full council last year.
Concerns led to officers trying to mediate between party leaders ahead of this year’s attempts but Councillor Perran Moon (Lab, Banbury Grimsbury & Hightown) told the Overview & Scrutiny Committee this week that a lack of progress had rendered “pretty pointless” future participation in the group by minority parties.
“The position of the Labour group has not changed,” he confirmed.
“I appreciate a lot of work has gone into this but there are very important principles at stake here which were explained last time.
“If other opposition members also feel it is inappropriate to take part, I don’t see how this working group can be called cross-party.
“I regret we cannot get involved in this but you reap what you sow.”
Councillor Ian Middleton (Green, Kidlington East) said: Middleton: “The sticking point is that many of the recommendations were overturned by this committee and pretty much railroaded through by the controlling group.
“Our feeling is that if you are going to do that again then you may as well do that from the get go and we will not give it the sheen of democratic accountability, which I don’t think it has as things stand.
“We are quite happy to continue discussions and try to come to an arrangement but we have had two stabs at it without getting very far.”
Scrutiny chair Councillor Tom Wallis (Con, Bicester East) said that “time had elapsed” on talks to reach a shared view and that parties willing to work with officers on the constitution should be able to “crack on”.
“We have had some stabs to get consensus,” he said. “We are in a position where we can have some democratic oversight, albeit that it will not be cross-party which is definitely unfortunate, or there won’t be any oversight at all. I would rather there is some oversight.”
The green light for work to go ahead, “where possible by consensus”, was voted through.
Cllr Moon then said: “That is exactly the problem. You have just railroaded through something we have a problem with.
“We have tried to discuss it, we want to discuss it further and this is exactly the problem we had with the working group last time. Recommendations came to this council from a cross-party working group but the council overturned between a third and half of them.
“The idea that we just crack on when the Conservative group is just going to push through everything makes a lot of what we do seem pretty pointless.”
Cllr Wallis felt that comment was “unfair considering the effort that has gone into this”.