Anger over council scrutiny reform plan

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A West Norfolk councillor has warned the borough risks becoming a “local dictatorship” if plans to reform scrutiny procedures are given the go-ahead.

Plans due before the borough council’s annual meeting on Thursday would, if approved, see membership of its cabinet scrutiny committee determined on a proportional basis until new permanent structures are agreed.

That would mean that, unlike the previous committee which had a majority of opposition members, the new one would be mostly drawn from the ruling Conservative group.

And Labour councillor Gary McGuinness condemned the proposal in a post on his Twitter account, saying: “This borough is sleepwalking into a local dictatorship.”

But council leader Nick Daubney yesterday defended the proposal, insisting that scrutiny of council decisions needed urgent reform.

He said: “We know scrutiny at this council has not been working recently. It’s been poorly led, badly briefed and has not been doing an effective job.”

Although the Conservatives were the largest group on the committee prior to this month’s elections, they could be outvoted by members from various opposition parties.

The new proposals would allow for a nine-member cabinet scrutiny committee to be appointed, with members of the opposition parties acting as both chairman and vice-chairman.

Mr Daubney said the plan, which has been proposed as an interim measure while an external review of scrutiny procedures takes place, would bring the council into line with other Norfolk districts, where the make-up of scrutiny committees is also determined by proportionality.

The review is set to begin next month and Mr Daubney added: “We need more effective scrutiny and we need to find a better way.”

But Mr McGuinness claimed the plan was an erosion of democratic processes and would not reassure voters that cabinet decisions were being adequately examined.

He said: “It is important that the decisions it makes are properly scrutinised and it is important that this is done by the opposition.”

The report also proposes the formation of three, 12 member policy review and development panels covering environment and community, regeneration and development and resources and performance issues respectively.