A fundamental aspect of our democratic process is the right of backbench councillors to scrutinise the decisions of the (in our case) Conservative administration.
Scrutiny should be an effective check and balance to ensure that the Cabinet are not overstepping the mark.
In recent years there have been three separate scrutiny committees at NWLDC.
Quite rightly it has been argued that the job of these three committees could be done by one. I completely agree.
If there is to be only one committee then it should be strong and have the power to properly investigate the decisions of the executive and hold them to account.
Tonight Council has approved the constitutional structure of the new committee (now known as the Policy Development Group).
Labour are disgusted with the resulting scrutiny rules.
I firmly believe that scrutiny should always be lead by a strong and effective opposition.
Tonight we asked for two basic, but I believe essential, changes to the proposed rules.
Firstly we asked for limitations on call in not to be based on the current double jeopardy tests of a numerical limit (per year) on call in items AND a vexatiousness test determined by officers to just a vexatiousness test incorporating both political leaders as final arbiters in the process.
In my comments to Council I said:
'To have both (tests) is disgraceful and suggests nothing less than an administration trying to stop all effective scrutiny to railroad their decisions.'
'To rest final decision with an officer, no matter how good and professional they are, only goes to highlight the impotence of the scrutiny function and the disdain this administration shows for it.'
Secondly we asked for chairmanship of the committee to rest with the opposition party, irrespective of who that party is.
'Scrutiny is always most effective when lead by opposition... Irrespective of which party is in control of this district the role of chair should be in the gift of the opposition.'
You will not be surprised to learn the Conservative leadership turned our reasonable requests down.
My final comments to Council were:
'I, as Labour Leader, would also call for a recorded vote. I want to be able to tell members of the public which Tories voted against democracy.'
I can confirm that indeed ALL Conservative members present and the one Liberal Democrat Councillor voted against our proposals.
It is a sad day for the future of our Council when the executive can effectively ride roughshod over the democratic process.