Conservatives in South Gloucestershire have forced decisions back behind closed doors, with committees of councillors scrapped in favour of a centralised ‘Leader and cabinet'.
Councils in Britain were forced to adopt cabinets after Tony Blair came to power, but when the Liberal Democrats were in Government councils were given a choice. In 2012, South Gloucestershire was one of the first in the country to return to open, democratic decisions made by committees sitting in public.
Cllr Ruth Davis said: “I’ve been an Executive Member and a Leader of Council. I know what the different systems are like. With executives, you have a single person taking decisions after talking to an officer. With committees, you have over a dozen people deciding, in public, sometimes changing the recommendations. South Gloucestershire is diverse, with many different communities that need different solutions. The extra viewpoints and experience that committee members gave us helped South Gloucestershire Council serve our residents well.”
Cllr Claire Young said: “I am heartily opposed to this concentration of power, which will mean decisions being taken by a few Tories behind closed doors, away from the public view. This is an even greater concentration of power than we had five years ago. Where we used to have a number of scrutiny committees looking at different areas of policy, now we will have a single scrutiny commission trying to cover everything.”
South Glos Lib Dems are thrilled to learn that £1m for Extra Care housing is coming to the area.
The news was announced at the Health Overview and Scrutiny committee last night (8th March), due to a successful bid by Sirona to the Homes and Communities agency. This means the long awaited development at the Thornbury hospital site could at last be coming.
Liberal Democrat Maggie Tyrrell (Thornbury South) said: “This is very exciting news. We’ve been fighting long and hard for Extra Care housing on the site of the hospital. When it’s built, the hospital will serve a much wider area, but it’s excellent news for Thornbury that the Extra Care housing is taking a step forward.
“Sirona told us that their bid for the Thornbury and Frenchay sites had been given £1m to develop the projects. There’s no sure thing yet, and they still need more money, but this is a good base for Sirona to take the next step forward. We don’t expect the care facilities to go up immediately, but after years of campaigning, we’re delighted that there’s a firm signal something’s going to happen.”
Cllr Claire Young said: “Extra Care housing is vital to give people support so they can continue to live independent lives as they age. I was very happy to learn about the successful grant application– this is something local residents and campaigners have wanted for a long time.”
The Liberal Democrats on South Gloucestershire proposed responsible, funded alterations to the South Gloucestershire budget, which were shot down by Tory and Labour votes.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Claire Young (Westerleigh) said: “No one should be in any doubt about the serious financial situation facing this and every other council in the country. The Conservative Government continues to squeeze local government, and Conservative councillors are left fiddling around the edges – or texting their Westminster colleagues in desperation.
“The Conservative obsession with the garden waste charge and their unaffordable promise is blinding them to other needs. They could have used the flexibility they had to make lives easier for residents. We proposed a modest one-off fund to cover the start-up costs of ten community libraries. Another decision was to close the OSS in Thornbury. We opposed this at the time and we stand by that. Transport continues to be a high priority for our local residents. Yate, Chipping Sodbury and the surrounding villages have seen the erosion of the bus services providing a vital link not just to Southmead but also to Parkway Station, UWE, further education colleges and the Mall. We have been pressing not just for the restoration of the last 82 bus of the day that was cut in January, but also a later service, to suit people who work at the Mall or attend college in the evening. Only by running a reliable service at times that people actually want to catch the bus is there any hope of creating a commercially viable service.
“We would ask the ECS committee – which needlessly froze the green bin charge, giving up £240k annually – to accept a budget reduction of just £91k. This £91k would then be spent on Reinstating the Thornbury One Stop Shop, Reinstating the late 82 bus service, and on rural community library start-up costs. We would expect the committee to fund this by altering the green bin charge.”
Cllr Clare Fardell (Thornbury North) said: “Not a single word about green bins has been said to me this year. There was a fuss at the time, but now there is no problem. Not one single complaint from my residents, and they talk to me a lot. But ever so many have made comments about the One Stop Shop. That really hits people. For example, older people who aren’t hard up might have no idea how to use a computer to find answers. They are full of praise for the Thornbury One Stop Shop staff who help them with their problem, and to use council services. To say the green bin charge is sacred when we are losing everything else is utterly ridiculous.”
School meal charges in South Gloucestershire were discussed today – in secret, with doors closed. Any new fees will apply for the school year 2017-2018.
Liberal Democrat Resources spokesman Cllr Mike Drew said: “We ought to be able to discuss the principles in public, our residents ought to be aware of this debate. I’m opposed to going into exempt session unless we need to.”
Cllr Claire Young (Westerleigh) added: “It’s going to be obvious what each school is going to be charging pupils. Parents are going to talk! Yet everything we discussed, and how any vote went is officially secret. This is absurd.
“It’s a basic principle of democracy that decisions should be taken in public, wherever possible. Officers warned us away from specific commercial information – but we could have had the discussion on principles, at least. This report title covered fees for school meals, school music lessons, and community meals. These directly affect our children, and our vulnerable residents. I can’t believe that every Tory, and every Labour member of the committee decided that the whole thing had to be hidden away, behind a closed door.”
The vote to go exempt was carried 7-2, with both Liberal Democrats voting against.
Report was Item 16 at https://council.southglos.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=414&MId=7753