Council move to cabinet system could “dilute democracy”

A WARNING shot has been fired across Uttlesford’s political landscape as the district council moves towards a high-powered cabinet style of government.

The conservative-controlled authority that governs waste, benefits, and planning will be ditching its traditional committee system so that decisions can be made “faster”.

However, members within the council are sceptical and have said that it will “dilute democracy” with decisions being taken out of backbenchers’ hands.

Thaxted Lib Dem Cllr Martin Foley said he was very concerned about how much the move would cost taxpayers.

“In these serious economic times when we all have to pull together and watch every penny we spend why, oh why, do we need yet another reorganisation which seems almost designed to split the council and detract from the main job in hand?”

“We need to run an effective and efficient council. If we go to a cabinet system it could end up costing more. People should be concerned about this.”

The move to a new system will not incur any costs but allowances for councillors are likely to increase with the creation of four new senior posts.

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Four councillors will become portfolio holders for housing, environmental services, community partnerships and engagement, and finance and administration.

Those posts will come with a special responsibility allowance. However the figure has yet to be decided.

A council spokesman said: “If the council moves to executive arrangements, then the Independent Remuneration Panel will investigate and recommend appropriate allowance levels.

“The current budget for members’ allowances is �287,170 and the current budget for members’ expenses is �23,500.

“There are no intrinsic costs involved in changing system and the structure will not require extra staff. It should cost no more, but will lead to faster and more effective decision-making.”

Uttlesford members get paid at least �5019.96 in allowances. Over half get extra for chairing committees, forums and groups.

Charing a committee brings in an extra �3754, but it is thought that a portfolio holder in the new system will get more than that.

Currently the top earner is council leader Jim Ketteridge whose allowances totalled �15,823.52 in 2009/2010.

But, aside from the cost, the potential decision making process has been most criticised.

Lib Dem leader Peter Wilcock expressed concerns over the accountability of the portfolio holders. “We want to keep all debates and decision making public and not diminish the roles of ordinary council members.”

Fellow Lib Dem Christina Cant added: “I am sad really, I will not be supporting this because backbench involvement will be very limited.”

But Cllr Ketteridge replied: “It offers best service possible to residents and businesses in the district and we need to take this opportunity now”.

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Timeline for a cabinet

December 14 – Discussion/adoption

Feb 2010 – Amend constitution

May 2010 – Council elections

May 8 – System comes into affect