Last night was Day 1 of the new Council administration. It formalised much of what had been discussed in the media in terms of who would run the Council, and who was on which committee. There was little reference to the “bad old days” from before May 3rd and the tone was noticeably different from all sides. But then this was just Day 1!
To recap the situation.
Although the Labour group has the most seats at 23 ( out of 51), they do not have enough votes to elect their proposed leader and therefore resume control. As the Conservatives had established a working arrangement with the Lib Dems and UKIP for support on certain key decisions, then that consortium of 28 votes confirmed Cllr Chris Poulter as the Leader, and the Conservatives as the controlling group.
Although the plan is to move to a more consensus based Committee system, this will take time ( most likely the rest of this municipal year), so the previous Cabinet system will continue with all posts occupied by Conservative Councillors. Whilst the link with the Lib Dems and UKIP is not a formal coalition in the sense of the previous one at National level between Conservatives and Lib Dems, there are important roles offered to those parties.
Cllr Mike Carr ( Lib Dems) was “made” Mayor, yesterday, and Cllr Alan Graves (UKIP) was made chair of the Executive Scrutiny Board. This board, which is cross-party, examines all decisions to be put in front of the Cabinet and can make recommendations. Those recommendations, whilst not mandatory, should be considered. In this tightly balanced administration, the Board will probably have more influence than in previous years.
A number of interesting developments…
Proposed pay increases. An Independent Panel had been doing some detailed work over the last few months or so, on the levels of allowances that Councillors were awarded in Derby City Council. It is evident that they are below that of comparable Councils. Their recommendations were for substantial increases and the details have been published. Poulter’s position was that it was not the time to implement this new structure, as it would not be relevant under the new Committee system. Cllr Eldret ( Labour) highlighted that, in the context of many Council employees not receiving much, if any, in the way of pay increases ( many with reductions) that implementing this proposal would not be right.
It was fairly clear this recommendation, which was not presented by the elected members, would not sit comfortably with the public, and certainly not on the first day of the administration. As the 3 UKIP Cllrs would most likely have voted against it, then there was also a risk that a vote to proceed would have failed. Whatever, the reasons, the right decision was taken.
Standards Committee. This is the internal Council group that examines complaints about Councillors. Previously, posts on the committee were allocated based on the size of each party which led to politically based outcomes. Progressively it became disreputable with a run of poor decisions and was a contributing factor to the toxicity of the Chamber. An independent review initiated by Cllr Shanker ( Labour) earlier in the year proposed some substantial changes, including changing the Cllr split to , one per party. This was viewed by all that spoke as a positive step forwards from the previous “problems”.
Change to Committee System. There is a lot to do in working out all of the options in moving to a new system. It was not clear to Poulter, initially, whether, Labour would join the all-Party working group, as they were, previously against the idea. Cllr Eldret, Leader of the Labour group, confirmed that they would participate – she said that they had other ideas/options to bring to the discussion.
The Chamber had a “morning after the night before” feeling about it. After months/years of abuse and poor behaviour in, and out, of the Chamber, with many visible consequences on the residents and users of Derby City, the people had spoken on May 3rd – they wanted “change”. Hopefully most would reflect on their contribution to the previous “problems” and embrace the opportunity for a second chance and to re-focus on the purpose of their roles.
The new administration have set their stall out to be more transparent, more communicative, more consensus based – that is good for all concerned. The balance of seats will not allow one party to run away with an authoritarian style.
There are reasons to be optimistic, but it is just Day 1! Sustainable action and delivery on manifesto promises is ultimately what matters – it will take some time for much to filter through, but I am expecting some significant announcements by the end of June!
Near term actions must be:
- Support for children with Special Educational Needs especially where they received a rushed, sub-standard education, health and care plan over the last year. Programme of formal reviews.
- Complete review of library strategy, focussing on consequences on paid-staff, and sustainability of current plans. Is the strategy necessary?
- Financial “deep clean” to confirm ~ £46m surplus of usable revenue reserves built up over the last few years. Move away from self-imposed austerity.
- Publish a plan of actions / improvements for the next year.
Categories: Derby City Council