Things have got worse in ERYC

May 25, 2011 11:00 AM

Last week, I attended the Annual General Meeting of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC). It’s not one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my life, but it’s always good to show your face at these events and let councillors see you are still alive and kicking.

The public gallery in County Hall does not give you a good view of the council chamber unless you stand up, however during prayers I was stood up, looking down on the assembled full council. One of the prayers thanked God for democracy. How anyone could keep a straight face is beyond me, as democracy is the one thing lacking in ERYC.

At the recent elections (thanks to the Liberal Democrat vote collapsing) the Conservatives increased their majority. They now have 53 seats out of 67. During the Conservative group’s AGM last week, council leader, Stephen Parnaby, took revenge on those councillors who dared to oppose any of his previous policies. Remember the Sue Lockwood debacle? Cllr Matthew Grove opposed the discretionary payment paid to her pension pot, and as a result, he has been fired from the cabinet. Cllr Ros Jump also suffered the same fate. Cllr Paul Robinson - who also opposed the payment to Ms Lockwood - was removed from his position as chairman of a Local Action Team, and Cllr Geraldine Mathieson was removed from her post as a vice-chairman of a scrutiny committee. The message went out loud and clear: if you dare question the leader, you will be removed from any position of influence.

What worries me the most is the lack of proper scrutiny in the council, and Cllr Parnaby has reduced the number of scrutiny committees from eight to five. This gives him more chance to load scrutiny committees with ‘yes men’. A former councillor told me he was criticised for scrutinising decisions too much! A new initiative has been set-up called ‘critical friends’ where newly elected councillors will 'shadow' cabinet members and will be able to challenge them and ask awkward questions. Judging by past experience, this has been introduced for the following reason: Cllr Parnaby doesn’t want new councillors to think for themselves. If they dare voice opinions that differ from his, he wants to know about it immediately.

All his recent decisions have strengthened his grip on power. Along with a clique of councillors, he has ensured he can get the decisions from scrutiny committees he wants. As I have written before, if you disagree with him, you can be removed from the scrutiny process. Can you imagine the outcry if the prime minister was responsible for appointing members of select committees, and removed anyone who was critical of him? At a local level this is exactly what is happening in the East Riding.

ERYC is a dictatorship. There’s no other way to describe it. Unless there is proper scrutiny, wasteful decisions will continue. Councillors should be free to think for themselves and challenge decisions that are not in the best interests of their constituents. There has to be group rules, but if councillors disagree with spending decisions, they should be allowed to voice their concerns without fear. That is the democracy we thanked God for at the start of today’s meeting, and what is sorely lacking.

 Last week, I attended the Annual General Meeting of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC). It’s not one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my life, but it’s always good to show your face at these events and let councillors see you are still alive and kicking.

The public gallery in County Hall does not give you a good view of the council chamber unless you stand up, however during prayers I was stood up, looking down on the assembled full council. One of the prayers thanked God for democracy. How anyone could keep a straight face is beyond me, as democracy is the one thing lacking in ERYC.

At the recent elections (thanks to the Liberal Democrat vote collapsing) the Conservatives increased their majority. They now have 53 seats out of 67. During the Conservative group’s AGM last week, council leader, Stephen Parnaby, took revenge on those councillors who dared to oppose any of his previous policies. Remember the Sue Lockwood debacle? Cllr Matthew Grove opposed the discretionary payment paid to her pension pot, and as a result, he has been fired from the cabinet. Cllr Ros Jump also suffered the same fate. Cllr Paul Robinson - who also opposed the payment to Ms Lockwood - was removed from his position as chairman of a Local Action Team, and Cllr Geraldine Mathieson was removed from her post as a vice-chairman of a scrutiny committee. The message went out loud and clear: if you dare question the leader, you will be removed from any position of influence.

What worries me the most is the lack of proper scrutiny in the council, and Cllr Parnaby has reduced the number of scrutiny committees from eight to five. This gives him more chance to load scrutiny committees with ‘yes men’. A former councillor told me he was criticised for scrutinising decisions too much! A new initiative has been set-up called ‘critical friends’ where newly elected councillors will 'shadow' cabinet members and will be able to challenge them and ask awkward questions. Judging by past experience, this has been introduced for the following reason: Cllr Parnaby doesn’t want new councillors to think for themselves. If they dare voice opinions that differ from his, he wants to know about it immediately.

All his recent decisions have strengthened his grip on power. Along with a clique of councillors, he has ensured he can get the decisions from scrutiny committees he wants. As I have written before, if you disagree with him, you can be removed from the scrutiny process. Can you imagine the outcry if the prime minister was responsible for appointing members of select committees, and removed anyone who was critical of him? At a local level this is exactly what is happening in the East Riding.

ERYC is a dictatorship. There’s no other way to describe it. Unless there is proper scrutiny, wasteful decisions will continue. Councillors should be free to think for themselves and challenge decisions that are not in the best interests of their constituents. There has to be group rules, but if councillors disagree with spending decisions, they should be allowed to voice their concerns without fear. That is the democracy we thanked God for at the start of today’s meeting, and what is sorely lacking.

 

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