Saturday, 10 January 2015

Knowle relocation project: and the West Dorset relocation project: both district councils' cabinet system is questioned

Earlier this week, a public meeting was called to look at local government structure in West Dorset:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and the longer-term demise of district councils... comparing the West Dorset relocation project: part three

All within the context of the WDDC 'relocating' to new offices:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: comparing the West Dorset relocation project

The outcomes could well have an impact on East Devon:


January 8th, 2015

Substitute EDDC for West Dorset and we are in the same situation.

There’s a rebellion brewing …

West Dorset: Cabinet system savaged as undemocratic | East Devon Alliance

This report is from the Dorset Echo - and comes with video footage:

District council criticised as residents discuss democratic issues

First published Thursday 8 January 2015 in News

WEST Dorset District Council came under heavy fire last night at a meeting which discussed democratic issues in the area. Hundreds of people attended Public-First’s meeting in Dorchester to voice their concerns, which included one resident stating: "There’s no democracy in West Dorset."

The majority of the audience agreed that a bigger debate was needed on the cabinet system currently used by the district council. The district council currently has an executive committee made up of seven councillors who all represent the Conservative Party.
The committee is responsible for most day-to-day decisions made by the council. Calls were made by audience members to switch to a committee system to allow other political parties to have a stronger voice when deciding upon policy.

An idea was also raised to look into the possibility of having a unitary system of local government in Dorset.

John Grantham, who organised the meeting, said: “It’s a terrific turnout – 270 people. The room was packed. The West Dorset District Council cabinet system is a very closed system. “To see members of the public want to change the system and want to introduce quite straightforward new democratic methods is really invigorating. 
I think this could just be the start of the turn of the tide.”

Two-thirds of the meeting were given to local residents to discuss the issues and have their say. The final third gave invited speakers to share their views. The meeting was chaired by human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith.

Representatives from Green, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP parties accepted invitations to take part.

West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin and West Dorset District Council leader Robert Gould, who both represent the Conservative Party, declined to attend.

Describing the empty chair left for the Conservative Party, Mr Stafford Smith said: “It’s a shame but the point of this is to discuss changes that can make things better.” This space was filled later, however, by former Conservative district councillor Fred Horsington. Despite initially attending as an audience member, he took to the stage at Mr Stafford Smith's request.

Before the public discussion, speaker Tom Murphy outlined his case for a unitary authority. He said: “Most people in this room are confused as to who does what. What I’m arguing for is that we have one council which does all the services and everyone understands. We have got 246 councillors throughout the district - 33 of them are actually what I call dual-hatted. They represent the county council and district council."

A number of points were made by members of the public. Mr Stafford Smith asked people to attach potential solutions to their criticisms. Ideas that came from the audience included having recall elections, having council meetings held in the evening, and granting borough status to certain towns.

The district council was criticised by many for the way it currently allows members of the public to ask questions. People called for 'democratic hours' to be enabled at public meetings to allow further questioning and the option to ask supplementary questions.

Other ideas suggested included electing councillors using proportional representation.

After residents had their say, each party representative had four minutes to air their views on points raised throughout the evening.

Mike Byatt, a councillor for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and a county councillor for Dorset County Council, spoke on behalf of the Labour Party. He said: “I think if you want to change politics you have to engage young people. We have to engage young people through the modern mediums. One way of making democracy work is making it visible. We need to make councils outward looking rather than inward looking and one way to do that is by putting it out there.” Cllr Byatt said councils needed to stop thinking in the short-term and look at things more strategically.

Ros Kayes, a councillor for Bridport Town Council, a district councillor for West Dorset District Council, and a county councillor for Dorset County Council, spoke on behalf of the Lib Dems. She said: “Councillors aren’t such a bad thing. It is parties I think that are the problem. West Dorset District Council has to be one of the worst (for it).nThis is enabled to happen because of the cabinet system and because of the whipping system.nWhy bring the worst aspects of national government to sully the way local government works?

Cllr Kayes said voters felt disenfranchised and ignored. She backed proposals for a unitary authority but called for more residents to stand for election. She said: “Just because I’m a councillor doesn’t mean my opinion is more important than yours.”

David Glossop, UKIP parliamentary candidate for West Dorset, criticised members of the Conservative Party who had declined to speak at the meeting. He said: “The Conservatives are showing what the Prime Minister has regularly shown year after year which is complete disregard for public opinion. Their leadership should be here. It’s a very important meeting.”

Speaking about local concerns, he said: “I like the idea of area boards and I would like to see councillors in the future actually supporting their area boards. I do believe that the committee system is probably better than the cabinet system. It should be more democratic.” Mr Glossop said he wouldn’t object to the idea of recall elections.

Peter Barton, Green Party parliamentary candidate for West Dorset, said it was important for the area to have an ‘active, energised local democracy’. He said: “The Green Party is opposed to the cabinet system. We would return to a much more open committee system as fast as possible. There are alternatives and there have to be. Returning to the committing system is one of those.”

Discussing the concept of having a unitary authority in Dorset, he said: “The Green Party is highly open to considering that. Personally I have become more and more convinced of exploring the case for unitary authorities.” Mr Barton said he would like to see local decisions made at the lowest viable level and a fairer system of voting.

Mr Horsington, speaking as a former Conservative Party representative, said unitary authorities would still have cabinet systems. He said: “If you want to live in the real world, that’s what it will be. If you have an overall majority party leading that authority, whether it’s a district council or a county council, you will have a cabinet system. Mr Horsington said local politics wasn't easy, suggesting people fell out in local communities 'like rats in a sack over very little.'

Nevertheless, he encouraged those who wanted to change the system to stand for office. He said: “If you want to become a councillor put your name on the piece of paper and stand for election.”

UPDATED WITH VIDEO: District council criticised as residents discuss democratic issues (From Dorset Echo)

Here is more reporting from the meeting courtesy of the Dorset Echo yesterday:
Council under heavy fire in debate on democracy (From Dorset Echo)

And from today's letters pages in the Echo, the outcomes from that meeting:

Democratic action

First published 11:00 Saturday 10 January 2015 in Your Letters

ON JANUARY 7 I saw a land-mark event at the Dorchester Corn Exchange hall.

To kick off this election year, 270 people braved the inclement weather to discuss how the democratic process could be improved in Dorset.

This meeting arose out of frustration with the impen-etrable and anti-democratic nature of the West Dorset District Council cabinet form of government – where the majority Conservative party holds 67 per cent of the seats, based on just 43 per cent of the vote, but then through cabinet appointments translates this into 100 per cent of the cabinet positions, essentially excluding all other political points of view.

Chaired by local human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith OBE, the meeting discussed how, under a unitary system, around 242 councillors countywide might be cut back to 100, with massive financial savings.

Equally, a committee structure of local government, as operates in Weymouth, would ensure that the voice of all parties would be heard in council.

Towards the end, brief contributions from representatives invited from the Green Party, Labour, Lib-Dems and UKIP were welcomed, and all agreed with the clear sense of the public’s view at the meeting that WDDC should move to a committee, and potentially unitary, system of local government. In perhaps the starkest illustration of the need for greater democratic respon-siveness, not one of the eight senior Tories individually invited to attend appeared.

Votes were taken on key issues debated and there was over a 90 per cent agreeement level for action on all the proposals that were put to the 270 attendees.

Participants were invited to provide their email or phone contact detailss, to be updated on subsequent options. The ‘Public First’ co-ordinating committee then decided on three actions:

> To take steps to seek a local referendum that would require WDDC to substitute a more representative system for the current Cabinet process.

> To initiate a public debate on the benefits of changing to a Unitary form of local government.

> To encourage more such ‘pop-up forums’ through West Dorset in the coming weeks.

John Grantham

Public First

Middle Street, Burton Bradstock

Democratic action (From Dorset Echo)

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