Let’s be clear what the committee system is. There are different variations but basically it is a system where councillors meet to discuss and agree council policy. Committee systems are by law populated with elected members in proportion to the number of councillors that each party holds. There is normally one overall controlling committee and that too will have councillors in proportion to number of councillors that each party holds. Every councillor gets treated the same and has access to all the information.
The current system is the so called strong leader and cabinet system where the leader of the council appoints the cabinet members at the yearly annual council meeting in May. The cabinet members have a portfolio and the council officers will turn to them on day to day issues. Bigger decisions are taken by the cabinet and the really big ones are taken by full council. There are various checks and balances with various scrutiny and performance management committees.
The problem with the current system is that it is an all or nothing system and when the number of councillors is close and you have annual elections the two biggest parties are basically pitched against each other as the party in power tries to get credit for what it has done and those in opposition try to rubbish what is being done and generally make a nuisance of themselves to wear down their opponents. It’s my belief that it does not create strong decisive government it actually makes for timid very short termist governance, “we can’t do this or that because they will cause a stink in the press..”.
It was not an easy decision for me or the local party and it has caused me to have a few wakeful nights. I take the view that it is possible to work with any democratic party as long as a win-win situation can be created – yes even with the Conservatives or Labour. The key is to have a system where everyone gets something from the system. Taking each party in turn:
The people of Worcester: They will benefit from a better quality of discussion and debate where a greater emphasis will be on the merit of any proposal. Unlike the current cabinet system, the committee system guarantees the participation of all councillors in decision making, and will not exclude anyone’s local councillor just because they are not a member of the cabinet or because their party is in opposition.
Conservatives: Clearly they gain in this arrangement because they are currently in opposition, now they can influence decision making in proportion to their elected members 17 out of 35 councillors. “Yes but won’t they just cause trouble in the committees?” Well they might but remember this will not be a Labour controlled administration it is a council in no overall control. The Conservatives will now have a stake in running the council, it’s their city too, they want it to be a success and yes they will want to get their name attached to successful stuff done. Fair enough if they manage a successful project why should they not get some credit – does it really matter who does it? Credit where it is due. If they don’t support other projects supported by other parties their future projects and ideas will stall because they need those parties to support their ideas. The key thing here is that long term relationships needs to be built – they can see that to be successful they need other parties’ support and they are locked in to this committee system for 5 years, so they might as well just get on with it.
Labour: On the face of it yes they are losing their complete grip on power. However, because they only had 16 votes in council and maybe an extra two to support them in confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party just how radical could they be given that their every move was being scrutinised and every human mistake mercilessly exposed by a daily press keen to sell papers? Much time and energy is wasted by those in power fending off attacks. Central government is expected to have cut funding to Worcester City Councils by 47% in real terms between 2009 and 2019 – it means saving a further £2 million within 3 years – tough decisions will be needed. The council faces challenges to deliver on its vision for the city. The economy is being hit by rising congestion and City and County councils need to work together on planning matters to do with public transport, car parks, town planning, road side parking, planning for walking and cycling – these are issues that need long term stability and long term planning. By working with other parties they can leverage in support from the County Council and show themselves to be a political party that is competent and worthy of the trust of the people.
Green Party: The committee system is written into our DNA. We passionately believe in democracy and the power of dialogue and working with others. We probably know in our hearts we are not going to be running Westminster any time soon but want to see good things done in the local area. In general, I believe we don’t really care who does what needs to be done, we just want to see that the changes are done. In this cynical world we are proud to say that we will work with anyone prepared to work with us to create a sustainable and more just world for us all.