Monday, 26 January 2009

SCRUTINY COMMITTEE 1

Thanet Council's Scrutny Committee is hard to explain. Most councillors sit on one committee, some more. Scrutiny is mine. It's purpose is similar to that of a Select Committee at the House of Commons, or an internal audit in a large organisation. We are supposed to act as "critical friends", to look at issues in greater depth, and to er well scutinise them.

We have no power, only in theory influence. We can set up sub-committees to look at matters in greater depth. I am on the Scrutiny sub-committees for the Airport, and Recycling.

When I came on to the Council in 2007 it was a widely held opinion that previous Scrutiny Committees had performed poorly. The answer to this from the Conservative Group was to put Conservatives in as Chair and Vice-Chair of the Committee. Previously Labour was allocated at least one of these. I was highly critical of this move. Even minor positions where councillors serve on local voluntary groups were allocated purely on the basis of Party rather than knowledge or ability.

In effect the vision was one of a one party state. Culturally this sent out a clear message that this was an administration that did not welcome constructive criticism. In my view this put the interests of the Cabinet ahead of what was best for a healthy local democracy in Thanet.

After a year of this there was a change in 2008 to having Labour Cllr. Mike Harrison as Vice-Chair of Scrutiny Committee. Partly because of comments I made at Council and Scrutiny Committee, a few external appointments to local voluntary organisations have been allocated to Labour members. However, they are few and far between.

I think it shows a regrettable mindset that the Conservative administration considers it more important to appoint somebody with a Tory Party membership card, rather than letting hordes of Socialists get their hands on water drainage committees or archaeological trusts. Thereby surely lies chaos with my comrades potentially allowing sewerage outfalls to destroy historical remnants. We will fight them even on the disability charity board is the attitude.

Sometimes this ends up with the absurd situation where a Labour Councillor gets elected by the community on to the same voluntary bodies where Conservative councillors have poor attendance records.

One thing I have advocated at Scrutiny Committee with my belief in Freedom of Information, is that attendance records at meetings are compliled for all elected members. This would cover Full Council, all committees and sub-committees plus the outside bodies and voluntary organisations that councillors sit on.

There is no reason why this could not be published on the web and be regularly updated.A little Web 2.0 please so constituents can be quickly aware of when anybody goes missing in Central America or elsewhere.

You can draw your own conclusions as to why the majority of my fellow Councillors oppose this opportunity to be more open and accountable to their electors.

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