Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The end of the elected dictatorship?

Under legislation passed by the Labour Government in 2000, councils had been required to use what is known as the Leader and Cabinet system of governance. Today - using new powers given to it by the coalition - Cornwall Council chose a system which will give more power to ordinary councillors. The new system will take effect from the elections next May.

The downside of the current system is that the Leader is elected for the full term of the council. Once chosen therefore, there are only limited chances to defeat his or her proposals. The Leader can appoint and dismiss who they want on the cabinet and the full council only gets a formal say on the budget once a year. Of course the budget is a huge issue but it can be written in such a way as to allow councillors only to decide the top line figures - not the detail about what it will be spent on.

Today the council agreed a new system which will retain the formal structure of the leader and cabinet but will give enhanced powers to councillors over policy, could lead to the full council having a formal veto over any cabinet decision and will mean that the leader needs to re-elected every year. I think this will be a great improvement but will also require a change in the culture of Cornwall councillors and, dare I say it, officers too.

When voters elect their councillor they expect him or her to be involved in the key decisions. The strong leader model currently in place effectively denied them that - unless their councillor was a cabinet member.

I believe that the new system will involve more councillors in policy formulation in a way that cabinet members cannot ignore.

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