John Clark writes…
First published: May 2011 – Gazette & Herald
In Local Government opposition is muted. The oft peddled statement that the public don’t want Party Politics means that most councillors allow the controlling group(s) to proceed unhindered. A second weakness is the fig leaf of Scrutiny Committees. Scrutiny implies that Council decisions will be examined, questioned and where appropriate, challenged. In Ryedale and North Yorkshire nothing is further from the truth.
The vast majority of the North Yorkshire County Council Scrutiny Committees are chaired by Tories. These Chairs are nominated by the Tory leadership. If they were to challenge the Tory decisions they would be in danger of losing their position and its payment. It is interesting to note that the two Chairs of the Scrutiny Board who have challenged the establishment have both left the conservative group.
A recent example of this abuse of power was the treatment of the Liberal Library motion. Full Council in February referred this motion to a Scrutiny Committee. It arrived at the committee in May. There were no background papers, report or calculations. We presented our motion and explained the savings that could have been made. We showed that it would deliver savings across the service without closing any libraries or the destruction of the mobile services to the rural areas.
The Tory attack then began.
“Why had the liberals not withdrawn the motion?”
– we could not withdraw the motion – it was sent to the Scrutiny Committee by Full Council.
“What was the cost of the meeting?”
– we would like to know
– the motion could have gone to a scheduled meeting in March or June.
“The Liberal proposals have been worked out on the back of a fag packet.”
– what a pity the NYCC Finance Officers had checked our figures
– out of £1.4m savings only £75,000 was disputed – there was no officer claim that we were wrong.
There was no debate on our proposals. The Chair of the Committee then wrote his own personal report to the Executive. He continued the attack. Ten days later the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee continued on his way for another year. This is not scrutiny. It is a complete abuse of democracy and a total waste of taxpayers’ money.
Since its formation the Scrutiny Committee on Ryedale Council has been chaired by a member of the largest opposition group. This is in line with not only government guidance but also a recommendation of Best Practice from the Audit Commission. In the May elections the Liberals became the largest opposition party. The Tories did not welcome this turn of events. As a result they supported an Independent for the Chair of Scrutiny. The same Independent had kept the Tories in power for the previous 4 years. He was rewarded for his loyalty by massive Tory support. It is very unlikely he will scrutinise, let alone challenge, his political sponsors.
The only way to change these cosy arrangements is through political opposition. Ryedale Liberal councillors will provide that challenge on both North Yorkshire County Council and Ryedale District Council.