Dispute over council scrutiny appointment

A DISPUTE has broken out over a controversial decision to appoint a Scrutiny Committee chairman from the ruling party at a council, despite the role traditionally being taken up by an opposition councillor.

The decision, which was made at a North Herts District Council (NHDC) meeting last week, saw Conservative councillors Ray Shakespeare-Smith and Michael Paterson appointed chairman and vice chairman.

Although not disallowed, it goes against government guidelines and best practice guides, which suggest it’s “appropriate” to have opposition councillors take up the roles.

The committee does not have the power to make decisions, but can check on decisions made by the Cabinet and call in items of concern for further discussion.

“The ruling Tory Cabinet wants everything its own way,” said leader of the North Herts Labour Group Cllr David Billing.

“It didn’t like criticism and alternative proposals and ideas coming from the Scrutiny Committee, so it has taken over the committee by appointing Tories to the posts of chair and vice chair.

“Their job will be to give Cabinet an easy time and not give the careful consideration of policy which the people of North Herts have a right to expect.”

Most Read

Since its introduction 11 years ago, the chairman post has always been taken up by an opposition councillor at NHDC.

It will be the first time that a Conservative councillor takes up the role.

“I think it’s an undesirable change. It’s something that I think everyone agreed quite well in the past,” said leader of North Herts Liberal Democrats Cllr Steve Jarvis.

“Things couldn’t be decided without the Conservative support anyway, so it seems to be a bit odd that they feel it necessary. It doesn’t make them look terribly confident in what they are doing.”

Other councils in the area, including Stevenage Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council, have chairmen who are from the majority party.

It was down to this in part that NHDC’s decision was made.

“We’ve been a little bit unhappy with how it’s been operated and some of the things that it’s referred back,” said leader of the council Cllr Lynda Needham.

“Last January, I flagged up to both of the opposition leaders in front of a group of officers at a meeting that we were looking at other models. The two group leaders knew we would be putting forward the opportunity to take the chair of the scrutiny.

“I’ve explained this chair comes up every single year. It’s not like it’s been taken over forever.

“They [the opposition] will have to wait and see if it works. I’m hoping that the Conservative members will certainly feel that they are more than comfortable in saying ‘we think this is flawed’ and why.”