Cornwall Council's Tory Leader Alec Robertson has announced his reshuffled Cabinet. (He did so after 9pm on a Friday night, so I bet the press officers who had to stay at work were thrilled).
The major change is the introduction of Cabinet Support Members. Alec has promised that introducing them won't result in higher allowances overall, but the price of around £32,000 will have to be found from somewhere. Tory backbencher Olive Eggleston speaks for many when she writes that if Cabinet members can't do the job themselves and need assistance, perhaps they should be paying out of their own extra allowances. But the Western Morning News reports that the money will be found from the ‘scheduled departure of an officer’. So whilst pay for staff is frozen and front line posts such as those providing specialist support for deaf children are not being filled, it’s considered okay to put more money into the pockets of the Conservative group.
The Independent councillors in the Cabinet are a matter for that group and there are no changes, although Neil Burden will see his responsibilities cut as Education is given to an (as yet un-named) Support Member. Rumour has it that the Leader wanted to appoint John Wood, Leader of the Indies, to the post but his group refused to back this, preferring their leader to sit outside Cabinet.
Is education really of such little importance now that it doesn't deserve a voting place around the Cabinet table and the new Cabinet is announced without the postholder's name even being known? I would suggest this is a curious decision given the huge shake up going on at the moment, with many schools considering becoming community trusts or even academies.
Among the Tories, much has changed. Two cabinet members have been demoted to support members. Another, Carolyn Rule, has been moved sideways to take over the curious mish-mash of Health & Wellbeing and Human Resources. Her former position in charge of the Economy and Regeneration has gone to Chris Ridgers. Is this Carolyn taking the fall for the slow start of the new Local Enterprise Partnership? Most observers would suggest that the Leader has been involved at least as much as Carolyn and there are stories of Carolyn falling out with Chief Executive Kevin Lavery over the performance of the Cornwall Development Company.
The other cabinet newcomer is Ray Tovey who will be responsible for Localism and Devolution. I presume that this signals a new impetus for this subject as Lance Kennedy never seemed to have a grip on the issues involved and was often ridiculed at Council meetings for never mentioning the subject.
Both Ray and Chris were good performers on the backbenches so we will see whether they are able to show any dynamism in their new jobs or whether they will be strangled by the corporate structure.
So whilst two cabinet members have been demoted, none have actually been sacked. Is it the case that Alec can't actually afford to alienate anyone at the moment?
The fourth cabinet support member is Steve Double, who recently lost the election to be the Conservative Group's Deputy Leader. The victor of that contest, Scott Mann must feel a bit sore that he won the election but missed out on the job. And what about Fiona Ferguson, who challenged Alec Robertson himself for the top job?
Many more questions remain. Who will these support members report to - the Leader or the Cabinet member who used to do their job? Who will take the position vacated by Chris Ridgers as Chair of the Children, Schools and Families scrutiny committee. Vice Chair John Pollard is the obvious candidate but may fall victim to the desire to replace a Tory with a Tory.
According to the Western Morning News, the Conservatives have also set up a new ‘communications group’, part of a charm offensive by the beleaguered Cllr Robertson to shore up his position. This group will be advised by Camborne MP George Eustice and has been dubbed ‘the committee to re-elect the President’ by my colleague Jeremy Rowe. I wonder whether this intervention by Mr Eustice will be more successful than his last foray into Council business which saw Sir John Banham imposed as chair of the new LEP - apparently without any input from the Council. Sir John ended up costing local taxpayers £46,000 and producing a report which was disowned by the Council.