Scrutiny plan at West Norfolk Council ‘will improve debate’

Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Councillors ENGANL00120130108124214
Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Councillors ENGANL00120130108124214

Proposed reforms to scrutiny processes at West Norfolk Council will “enliven” its debates, the authority’s deputy leader has claimed.

A raft of measures including fewer meetings and a restructing of several committees was backed at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

But the leader of the opposition says he fears the plans could freeze minority parties further out of the decision-making process.

The proposals were drawn up after a review of the authority’s existing procedures found they were ineffective.

The measures included a plan to move to a new cycle in which the council, cabinet and most committees would meet once every six weeks, instead of the current monthly programme.

Committees would also be allowed to elect their own chairmen and vice-chairmen while each member was to be given the right to place an item on a panel’s agenda.

But that was amended to limit that right to members of opposition groups after John Collop, leader of the main opposition Labour group, voiced concerns over the level of input minority parties would have in decisions.

He said there was a need for input from all sides of the political divide and was worried that opposition groups would not be able to make proposals to committees where it didn’t have members.

He also feared that, under the original proposal, opposition ideas could be buried.

He added: “I’m struggling to make my party see there is something here to make them come to meetings.”

Deputy leader Alistair Beales said Mr Collop had identified a weakness in the plan, particularly as opposition groups had previously held a majority on the cabinet scrutiny committee, which is to be abolished under the current plans.

He said: “When the opposition had the cabinet scrutiny committee, they had control of an agenda.

“I don’t think they used it very well, but there is a deficit there. We need a system that works on all occasions.”

But he said he did not believe opposition ideas would be buried by panel chairmen who were elected by their colleagues.

He said: “If he does, his colleagues won’t elect him again.

You see it all the time in Parliamentary terms opposition parties electing their own chairs. It’s enlivened their panels and it will enliven ours.”