Good governance at GBC?

Note from Susan Parker, chairman of Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) on GBC Governance session at Millmead last night


A lot of us (including Effingham Residents Association members) were at the Guildford Borough Council meeting on corporate governance last night (Tuesday 27/1) . It was interesting, in that there was some pretence from GBC at actually listening.

What was also interesting is that GBC are clearly rather alarmed about GGG – there were a number of references to anticipated changes in the council after May.


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Part of the evening was a briefing/ talk given by Ed Hammond of the Centre for Public Scrutiny (pictured), a charity funded by the Local Government Association to provide assistance to councils. He has been given a watching or advisory brief. He seemed genuinely well informed and impartial, and noted that dominance of councils has led to all kinds of corruption in the past – and listed many historic events including specifically Poulson and Lady Porter and their corruption involving developers.

Re changes to the committee system he noted that 13 councils have already moved from the “Leader & cabinet” system to the committee system since the rules changed, and that 3 more are in the process of doing so: Fylde, after a successful referendum, Canterbury (with the council pre-empting the referendum by agreeing to change before the petition for referendum was submitted) and Cambridge, which just decided to change. (You may recall we modelled the petition on that from Canterbury and I was given advice from both Fylde and Canterbury).

Cllrs Tony Rooth and Sue Sturgeon looked unhappy through much of his talk. However, while this was positive re the committee system, note Ed Hammond didn’t see it as a panacea, and was very balanced. He said:

 “If you have the same people operating in one or another system, they are likely to behave in the same way.”

Do note that local government law means that the formal system can only be introduced in May and would take 6 months to organise so it would be May 2016 before it could be brought in. Furthermore, once changed, it can’t be changed again for 5 years – or 10 years, if done following a referendum. However, a “hybrid committee system” (which works like a committee system but under the strong leader model) can be brought in at once without these restrictions. It does mean that there is no possibility of something being done pre May which would commit an incoming council to a particular new structure. If we were to be the largest party after May we would be able to introduce a hybrid committee system immediately and then could move to full committee the following year.

Within small working groups we were asked to come up with principles and priorities and then come back to the main meeting with group proposals – all seemed rational and when they produce the formal notes I will circulate. Integrity, transparency and accountability featured highly, along with involvement of the community, the requirement for the council to listen to the results of consultation, and value for money.

More info to follow when they send round the notes. We have been invited to contribute further views, and the public are also welcome to offer their views (we don’t yet know  how).


Editor’s Note

This is a useful note from Susan and certainly reflects what those of us who attended felt about the proceedings.  It was encouraging that GBC held the meeting and it was worth noting that Satish Mistry (GBC Monitoring Officer) ran the event in an inclusive and friendly manner. The breakout groups were well run with the assistance of GBC officers.  We also had the opportunity to have some brief frank and informal exchanges with some Councillors present.  

However, I remain bemused that changing committee style from “Leader & cabinet” system to the committee system could take 18 months.  Other councils have gone through this process so has nobody heard of copy/paste/edit … a ten minute job that could easily be in place by May 2015 if so minded?