Guildford Dragon reports
Hon Alderman Gordon Bridger is a former mayor and Lib Dem borough councillor.
The Motion put forward by the Liberal Democrats for reforming the Guildford Borough Council next Tuesday, December 7 is that it revert to the age old committee system, rashly and unwisely abolished by the Labour Government in favour of an Executive system.
This change was forced upon all councils by the Labour Government who were having problems with the many councils they ran in the north of England. Conservative, Liberal and even Labour councillors in Guildford were opposed to the change. My contacts with many Mayors in Surrey, almost all Conservative, confirmed that they regarded it as an unnecessary and even retrograde step.
The reform, hurriedly rushed in, entailed council officers reporting directly to a small number of councillors (up to ten in our case) who could make decisions without going through the normal filtering system of special committees. Scrutiny committees were set up which could call in Executive decisions for examination but they were only given advisory powers, usually ignored.
While the system is undoubtedly faster it has three serious drawbacks:
Firstly, the filtering committee system enabled councillors, who know their wards much better than anyone else, to check errors and ensure that residents views were fairly represented.
Secondly, the work load on the Executive is so huge that there is not much time available to check officers reports and recommendations. Mistakes occur and officers are given more power than is necessary and desirable.
Thirdly, it effectively sidelines some 38, or so, councillors who are bypassed and have to stand by and wonder why they were elected. It was certainly an important reason why I retired as a councillor.
For example: the huge contract to manage the £25m former Civic Hall never went through a committee system; more recently a Roll of Honour for famous scientists has appeared in the Guildhall and no councillor I contacted knew how it had got there.
After much diligence officers informed me they were chosen by a panel consisting of the GBC chief executive (as was), the vice chancellor (president now) of the University of Surrey, the chairman of the business forum and a professor from UNIS. Councillors are not involved at all.
Is this a satisfactory system? There are other examples.
This motion is not political and I hope that all councillors will support the proposal which will, if passed, allow a better run and more democratic council.