Guildford Liberal Democrats call for return of council committee system
The Liberal Democrats have backed a call for a referendum on how Guildford Borough Council makes key decisions.
Although there are 48 members, the council is currently run by an executive of eight people, including leader Stephen Mansbridge. All of their decisions are then scrutinised by two committees.
After a motion to move towards a committee system was ‘wrecked’ by a last-minute Conservative amendment last Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats gave their support to a petition that could force a public vote.
The petition, launched by Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) in June, calls for a return to a committee system where powers are spread among more councillors.
It was launched amid claims that the executive ignored a scrutiny decision to reassess the housing needs figure of 652 new homes each year.
The group estimates that it is halfway to the 5,243-signature threshold that would force a referendum.
Councillor David Goodwin, signed the petition and he said the Liberal Democrat group backs it.
“We support the petition but because of the work that has been put in by Guildford Greenbelt Group, we want them to get the credit for it,” he said. “It is their petition and we’re not trying to hijack it.”
Cllr Goodwin’s motion at Wednesday’s meeting called for the council to move to an alternative system and for officers to report on possibilities that would give power to more councillors.
The motion was proposed two weeks ago but Conservative councillor Terence Patrick put forward an amendment during the meeting, suggesting that the wider issue of alternative systems instead go to the joint scrutiny committee, which he chairs.
The amendment was passed along Party lines.
Cllr Goodwin said: “I’m very disappointed that they (the Conservatives) didn’t go along with the motion, as presented in the agenda. They put forward an amendment that wrecked the whole motion, as far as I’m concerned. They removed parts one, two and four of the motion.
“They took them out and replaced them with wording for it to be given to scrutiny to be looked at – and that’s not what I wanted from the motion at all.”
GGG’s Susan Parker said she is delighted the petition now has the support of the Liberal Democrat councillors
“Obviously we are not affiliated to any party. As long as nobody thinks that we are closet Lib Dems, and that that’s what it’s all about, then that’s brilliant.
“Effectively, we all want the same thing – the wider involvement of all councillors,” she said. “What it means is we are going to go full steam ahead with the petition. It’s clear we need it – there isn’t going to be change unless we demand it.”
Councils were run by a committee system until the last Labour government initiated the executive system to speed up decision-making.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both committed in their 2010 manifestos to giving councils choice as to how they operate.
Cllr Mansbridge said a lot of work has been done during the past two years to reassess how the council is run and that the scrutiny committees have the power to question decisions.
He said the system, which has operated for 14 years, cannot, in one council meeting, be dismissed as unfit for purpose ‘without a very heavy weight of qualification’.
“I think we need to harshly examine what’s wrong with it, see if that can be changed,” he added.