Felixstowe Conservatives among East Suffolk councillors voting to keep controlling cabinet model

  Posted: 25.11.21 at 11:51 by Jason Noble (local democracy reporter)

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Calls to scrap the leader and cabinet system of decision making at a Suffolk authority have been rejected as fears were raised a committee model would be “cumbersome and long winded”.

East Suffolk Council on Wednesday night voted by 32 votes to eight against a motion for a new style of governance.

As it stands the leader of the largest party, currently the Conservatives, selects a cabinet with members holding specific responsibilities such as planning or finances.

However the authority’s opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group lodged a motion calling for that to be scrapped and a system of committees around each portfolio to be formed.

That is because the committees have proportionate numbers of councillors to political parties, which would enable more input into decision making.

Green councillor Rachel Smith-Lyte, who brought forward the motion, said: “Before 2000 the committee model was widespread in the country but councils moved to the cabinet model around that time.

“Several have already reverted, this includes many councils with Conservative administrations like ours.

“To name a few, North Devon and Basildon district councils made the change, placing the decision making powers in the hands of politically-balanced committees. Also Cheshire East changed back to the committee model to bring more councillors into the decision making process.”

She added: “The committee model lets every councillor – and every resident they represent – have a greater say, instead of placing power in the hands of a few people like the cabinet model.”

But the proposals were rejected because many felt the committees would increase the administrative burden and result in decisions taking longer to be reached.

Labour’s Mike Deacon, who served on the predecessor Suffolk Coastal authority which had used the committee system, said: “It was cumbersome, it was long-winded, it was expensive and decisions took forever to come to any fruition.

“We don’t get to see that with the cabinet and system of governance we run now, so I would be very, very reluctant to see us return to the committee system.”

Conservative council leader Steve Gallant said the current model featured checks and balances such as the ability to ask questions at cabinet meetings and scrutiny of decisions at a dedicated committee.

He added: “Our current model is agile and allows us as a local authority to react quickly to the need of our residents and thus deliver against our strategic agenda in both a timely and efficient manner.

“The proposed committee model is widely known to be inefficient, sluggish and overly focused on operational matters rather than policy and outcomes.”

Babergh District Council is due to discuss a similar proposal in the new year, although that authority does not have an overall majority and operates as a rainbow cabinet of Conservatives, Independents and Liberal Democrats.

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