Butterill and Moran - Independent councillors

Independent members of Cheshire East Council are calling on residents to get behind a petition which could shake up the way decisions are made, writes Stephen Topping.

The 13-strong group – which includes Nantwich North and West councillors Arthur Moran and Penny Butterill (pictured) – has launched the ‘Change Cheshire East’ campaign to give councillors of all political persuasions a bigger voice.

It calls for the current cabinet system of governance to be scrapped in favour of a committee system.

And if five per cent of Cheshire East’s electorate sign the petition, a referendum on the matter could take place.

Cllr Bernice Walmsley, CEC member for Middlewich, said: “There are currently eight cabinet members – all from the ruling party.

“They are eight senior councillors but they are not infallible – and they do not represent all the views of the full council.”

CEC’s cabinet includes Cllr Rachel Bailey, the council’s Conservative leader, and seven councillors who she has appointed from her own party – each with their own responsibility, such as health, environment or planning.

In a committee system – which had been used by Cheshire’s former borough councils until 2001 – decisions would be made by committees with proportional representation from all CEC’s political groups.

The Independent group says cabinet decisions are made with “no proper scrutiny” as a result of this system – adding that closed meetings regularly take place.

Online and in a leaflet encouraging residents to sign the petition, Independent councillors blame the cabinet system for “allowing a culture of bullying within the council to thrive”.

They suggest residents should demand change following CEC’s high-profile scandals – including the suspension of three top officers last year – and insist the petition is a “one-off opportunity” to ensure all decisions on how taxpayers’ money is spent would be “debated at open committee2.

“I’m not saying we could change decisions but it would give us the chance to talk about those decisions,” said Cllr Walmsley.

“At the moment you can say your piece at cabinet but it does not change the decision. We just want more of a say for the people who elected us.”

Cllr James Nicholas, CEC member for Bollington, submitted a motion for the council to consider introducing a committee system in February.

It was debated by members of the constitution committee on June 28, but the motion failed after independent and Labour members were outvoted by Conservatives.

Cllr Sam Corcoran, leader of CEC’s Labour opposition group, supports the proposal – but believes it might not resolve all of his concerns about the way the council is run.

“Broadly we share those serious concerns about the way the council is run at the moment,” he said.

“The decision not to call in the wheelie bin charge emphasises the concerns we have got over the current structure.

“But I would also say that it does not necessarily solve all the problems. A committee structure can still be used to railroad through unpopular policies if you want it to.

“So yes I support the call to sign the petition, but at the same time we need to be working to change the culture at CEC.”

However, Cllr Paul Findlow, CEC cabinet member for corporate policy and legal services, insists the council’s position on governance has not changed since it was debated in June.

“The change from the current cabinet system to a committee system was the subject of a notice of motion proposed at full council in February,” he said.

“This notice of motion was considered at the council’s constitution committee, in June, where it was resolved ‘that the report be noted but no changes be made to the council’s governance arrangements at this time, given that these have only recently been considered on a cross-party basis and in view of the proximity of the May 2019 local government elections’.

“The council’s comments regarding all the points highlighted under ‘Why should Cheshire East taxpayers demand change?’ on the petition website have already been well publicised in the past.”

For more information about the petition visit changecheshireeast.org

One Comment

  1. Roger J Mellor says:

    I am totally in agreement that a cabinet committee should be abolished .Over the years this CEC committee has wasted so much money for rate payers with the view of corruption within the ranks. A change can only be beneficial. Hope the change is forthcoming

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