I don't think Cornwall Council's Conservative Leader Alec Robertson really enjoyed today's full council meeting. His reshuffle fell apart around him as, first of all, his Independent coalition partners rejected the concept of 'Cabinet Support Members' and refused to nominate a lead member for education, and then the council as a whole voted against his move to pay allowances to the new tier.
Alec started off brightly enough. He had a couple of pre-scripted jokes (presumably the work of his new adviser George Eustice MP) but these hardly rallied the troops when they knew what was coming.
As I blogged yesterday, the one missing piece of the reshuffle puzzle was the one additional position being offered to the Indies. We were told they would meet at 9am to choose the name. Group Leader John Wood was absent with a family bereavement but numerous indies told me he had wanted the job. The Council Leader wanted him too. Unfortunately, Indie councillors wanted their group leader to stay outside the administration hierarchy and, in a strong statement, made clear their unhappiness with the whole support member concept. And so they point blank refused to make a nomination.
The most contentious debate of the day was about the proposal to pay the new cabinet support members an additional allowance. Technically, we were being asked to appoint an independent remuneration panel which would decide on the amount each of the four would receive. But, as MK leader Dick Cole said, we knew the amount that would be paid in total and we knew the number of support members so the rest was just maths.
My colleague Jeremy Rowe and I proposed that there should be no independent remuneration panel and, consequently, no pay for support members. We didn't think that it was right, at a time when the council is cutting services and cutting jobs, that the only expansion should be in councillors' pay. The Leader claimed that the money would be found by not replacing an officer who was leaving. But he failed to address the central point that the overall budget for members' pay would be going up.
In the end, the council voted by 55 votes to 35 to back our amendment and refuse to pay cabinet support members. Where that leaves the proposal is anyone's guess. With no pay on offer, I can't see anyone else jumping at the chance to work as a full time (the Leader's words) support member. And whether the ones already appointed will stay in the job for long with no pay is anyone's guess.
So the odds on another reshuffle being needed within a few months are quite high.
It could all have been so different if Alec had listened to backbench councillors who complained that they were excluded from the decision making process. Instead of appointing an extra four councillors and seeking to pay them, he could have listened to and consulted with all 113 councillors who are not cabinet members and got them involved in the decision making process. He would have lessened the complaints, got the work done an saved taxpayers a few quid into the bargain.