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Lock Democracy In: Proposing a new system of Governance for Folkestone and Hythe District Council

May 5, 2022 11:45 AM
Originally published by Folkestone and Hythe Liberal Democrats

Tim PraterLib Dem Group Leader Tim Prater once again led the push to change the system of governance at Folkestone and Hythe District Council at its AGM on Wednesday 4th May.

The Council currently has "Cabinet" structure, with all members of the Cabinet appointed by the Council Leader. Since a motion put by Tim in September 2019 the Council has looked at options for its future Governance.

At the AGM on May 4th, the Council finally debated those options, selecting between a more open Committee system and the existing Cabinet ystem.

By the narrow margin of 16 votes to 14, the proposal to move to a Committee system from May 2023 was defeated. All Lib Dem, Green and Labour Councillors voted for the motion, plus Conservative Peter Gane. All other Conservatives, Independents and UKIP members voted against.

In moving to a more democratic and fully proportional system based on the numbers of Councillors elected, Tim Prater said:

"Council, I'd like to move an amendment adding a new recommendation 3 reading:

"'That this Council adopts a Committee system, with a streamlined approach and a separate Scrutiny Committee, with effect from May 2023.'"

"No group Locked Out. All groups get to have their say, make their proposals, have their vote.

"Democracy Locked In.

"Since I started the push to move to the committee system in September 2019 all the background work shows its perfectly possible to have a dynamic, streamlined, inclusive committee system, with a limited number of committees and retain our improved scrutiny structure.

"Committee systems CAN have quick decisions, named responsible members, scrutiny AND democratic balance and accountability. It doesn't have to be speed OR democracy.

"We've had training sessions, diagrams, papers. It can be done. It should be done. And it should be done, today.

"And the reason I know it can work?

"That is hugely to the credit of David Monk, and the Conservative group who allowed him to make an offer in early 2020 for non-members of the majority coalition to join the Cabinet. Without precondition. Able to speak, vote and work as we saw fit on behalf of our electors and groups.

"As I said then, I think the move was ground-breaking, and a genuinely exciting experiment in terms of opening up the council among the groups.

"I still think so. It remains to David's credit that he has stuck by it, even when I'm sure its been uncomfortable for his to do so.

"I think Lesley Whybrow and I on behalf of our respective parties have fulfilled our part.

"We've sometimes agreed with proposals, sometimes disagreed. We've challenged, questioned, amended. Voted for things, and remain vehemently against others.

"We've undoubtedly made Cabinet meetings longer. And in our respective portfolios, we've tried to make our Council better for local residents.

"And I firmly believe we've also made Cabinet decisions more thought through, and often stronger.

"For all of those decisions and discussions, we've been in the room. Democracy locked in. Not groups locked out.

"And, much as I think that the revised system we are currently using in Folkestone and Hythe, with a range of parties represented, some without precondition, is a much better one, it has flaws. Two big ones. And a move to the committee system fixes those flaws.

"Flaw one: It's in the leaders gift. A new leader could scrap it in May 2023. A new leader could scrap it tomorrow. Hell, that leader could scrap it tomorrow. A system that puts all the power in one persons hands is not a good system.

"Flaw two: the system is not proportional.

  • 5 of 13 Conservatives on this council are on the Cabinet.

  • 2 out of 2 independents.

  • 1 in 2 Lib Dems.

  • 1 in 6 Green members.

  • 0 of 5 Labour members, although that was their choice.

  • 0 out of 2 UKIP members.

"It's not proportional. It should be. Democracy Locked In. Not Locked Out.

"And before any suggestion of self interest here, let me save you some time.

"In any decently proportional system, a policy and resources committee of say 10 people from a Council of 30 would not include the leader of a 2 person group.

"Think of that prize. Voting for the Committee system today could mean you hear less of me in future. I'm just saying.

"So a committee system in 2023 locks in cross-Party representation at all levels. It makes it the right of Council to expect that inclusion, not the removable gift of one person. It makes it proportional. And it might shut me up.

"Honestly Council: what more could you possibly want?

"Leave a real legacy to the new Council elected in May 2023. A proportional, open Council that listens to all groups, and all Councillors, equally.

"Lets lock democracy in tonight.

"Lets learn our lessons, welcome them, and build on them. Please: support my amendment to move to a committee system."