War of words over open­ness of the coun­cil

Rutherglen Reformer - - News - Jonathan Ged­des

South La­nark­shire Coun­cil is suf­fer­ing from a lack of “demo­cratic scru­tiny”, and too many meet­ings are merely “a for­mal­ity” ac­cord­ing to a Ruther­glen coun­cil­lor.

Robert Brown’s re­marks came as a war of words erupted over the open­ness of coun­cil af­fairs, with the Labour party ac­cus­ing the rul­ing SNP group of “naked cyn­i­cism”, while the Coun­cil leader John Ross fired back by telling op­po­si­tion politi­cians to “stop bleat­ing”.

The dis­pute cen­tred on a mo­tion that would have seen the lo­cal au­thor­ity’s bud­get de­cided upon by all coun­cil­lors at the full coun­cil meet­ing, rather than by se­nior rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

It was backed by Labour, the Tories and the Lib­eral Democrats, with the SNP and in­de­pen­dent coun­cil­lors op­pos­ing it.

The mo­tion’s fail­ure to pass sparked an an­gry back­lash.

Coun­cil­lor Brown told the Re­former: “Most peo­ple would ex­pect key de­ci­sions, not least about the bud­get, to be taken by the full coun­cil in the cham­ber after a de­cent de­bate about the dif­fer­ent op­tions.

“In­stead many full coun­cil meet­ings are a for­mal­ity where the roll call of at­ten­dance is taken, the min­utes are for­mally ap­proved and noth­ing much else of sig­nif­i­cance hap­pens.

“The key de­ci­sions are made in­stead at com­mit­tees. The re­sult is that there is lit­tle pub­lic in­ter­est in the coun­cil, no aware­ness of the dif­fer­ent views of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties or of dif­fer­ent coun­cil­lors and far less demo­cratic scru­tiny than there need be.

“My view is that the full coun­cil should make the fi­nal de­ci­sion on key mat­ters – whether it be the bud­get, clo­sure of care homes, nurs­ery pro­vi­sion or other ma­jor de­ci­sions.”

Mr Brown said he’d like to see a ques­tion time in­tro­duced where com­mit­tee con­ven­ers could be held to ac­count.

He added: “The SNP have talked about the need for greater trans­parency but have let peo­ple down by this closed-shop ap­proach.”

Labour group leader Joe Fagan had jointly put for­ward the mo­tion with the Lib­eral Democrats.

He said: “This would have started the process of mod­ernising stand­ing or­ders, strength­en­ing the role of coun­cil­lors and mak­ing the coun­cil more demo­crat­i­cally ac­count­able.

“That’s why it was so dis­ap­point­ing to see the rul­ing SNP ad­min­is­tra­tion break with con­sen­sus and vote down a sim­ple, mea­sured pro­posal for re­form. It was an act of naked cyn­i­cism de­signed to sti­fle de­bate.

“The SNP in South La­nark­shire promised open­ness and trans­parency when they were elected but only pay lip ser­vice to those prin­ci­ples now.

“They are shut­ting care homes, block­ing scru­tiny and be­tray­ing the prin­ci­ples on which they were elected.

“It’s been less than 18 months since the SNP took con­trol and in that time they have made it abun­dantly clear that they sim­ply can­not be trusted.”

Coun­cil­lor Alex Al­li­son, of the Con­ser­va­tives claimed the mo­tion’s fail­ure was a blow for trans­parency.

He said:“It is sadly now ob­vi­ous that this mi­nor­ity SNP ad­min­is­tra­tion has no in­ten­tion of ac­tu­ally de­liv­er­ing the trans­par­ent and demo­cratic ap­proach it promised be­fore last year’s elec­tion.

“This cross-party pro­posal should have re­ceived unan­i­mous sup­port. It would have im­me­di­ately re­solved the un­demo­cratic sit­u­a­tion with the bud­get process, as well as start­ing an ur­gent re­view of other pro­ce­dures that pre­vent proper scru­tiny and de­bate.”

How­ever, coun­cil leader John Ross hit back at the claims and ac­cused the other par­ties of sour grapes.

He said: “It’s re­ally a bit rich that some op­po­si­tion politi­cians are com­plain­ing about a lack of demo­cratic ac­count­abil­ity when they lost an open and demo­cratic vote.

“That’s how democ­racy works and they re­ally should ac­cept that rather than bleat­ing about it af­ter­wards.

“The fact is that a ma­jor­ity of coun­cil­lors at the full coun­cil meet­ing backed my sug­ges­tion that a re­view should be car­ried out into the terms of ref­er­ence and the pro­ce­dures of our com­mit­tees and fo­rums.

“This is part of our ad­min­is­tra­tion’s com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing not only that we are ef­fi­cient and fit for pur­pose, but also that the coun­cil is open and trans­par­ent.

“When they were in ad­min­is­tra­tion for 18 years the Labour Group re­jected any at­tempts to look again at stand­ing or­ders and pro­ce­dures. I am sure it is just a re­mark­able co­in­ci­dence that they fi­nally think one is nec­es­sary, now that they have been kicked into op­po­si­tion by lo­cal vot­ers.”

My view is the full coun­cil should make the fi­nal de­ci­sion

Dis­ap­pointed Robert Brown

Democ­racy John Ross has claimed the other par­ties should re­spect democ­racy

Changes Joe Fagan

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