Sue Carpendale and Kathy Pollard, Babergh District Councillors
Here is May’s report – a bit late and the next one will be posted shortly.
Council agreed to adopt its new constitution at a special meeting in April, which will see increased joint working between Babergh and Mid Suffolk. There will be some joint committees including Scrutiny and Audit, but they will both have separate committees so that each council can address its own issues. The structures mirror each other in order to facilitate the servicing of both councils by one officer team.
The extent to which Babergh and Mid Suffolk are working together has attracted attention from Westminster and from the local government press. Lobbying of the Minister by our two leaders very probably contributed to some extra grant this year to help us develop our transformation agendas. We also made the short list of the Municipal Journal’s award system recently and on Friday 10th May a deputation from the two councils attended a presentation event in London to put our case for an award. The results of this will be announced in June, but whatever the outcome, this is significant recognition of the work done here in Suffolk.
Transformation enquiry groups
Early in May members of Babergh’s Strategy Committee and Mid Suffolk’s Executive held a joint workshop to consider the next step towards achieving transformation in the ways the two councils deliver services. There will be six working groups comprising officers and councillors and also representatives from outside agencies and organisations together with individuals with expertise and interests as we investigate new ideas, best practice from elsewhere and more effective and different ways of operating. These enquiry groups will not be looking at specific service areas, but at overall themes and how service areas feed into achieving prioritised outcomes. The themes, in essence, focus on growth and the local economy; the environment; housing; health, wellbeing and communities; “front office” issues such as customer and services access; and “back office” functions such as ICT, HR, financial and legal services. There is already a lot of work in progress on this last grouping.
These enquiries are directed towards finding further savings which could be as high as $4.2m over the next three years – or between 14% and 18% of the budget requirement each year. This is not only a huge challenge in a very practical sense but we are likely to find ourselves challenged culturally and facing very different ways of doing things.
Role of Independents on Babergh
There have been a number of letters in the press recently about the role of the independent (no description) Babergh member, Clive Arthey and the fact that he had been denied a committee place. Colleagues in Mid Suffolk and Babergh have been asked questions and we thought it would be helpful if we explained what has happened.
Firstly, as we have previously reported, the council has been reviewing its committee structures. Under the legislation brought in by the previous government committee places are allocated proportionately, dependent on the number of members in each group. On Babergh District Council there are four groups (group numbers in brackets): Conservative (18), Liberal Democrat (12), Independent (9) and Labour (3). Clive Arthey is not a member of any of these groups. He is a truly independent Independent, refuses to group even with the other independents, and as such he would not automatically get a place on any committee.
At the council meeting on April 9th this year members had the option of allowing Clive a committee place, but, due to the legislation, if just one person voted against, then he would be denied a committee place. A number of councillors spoke in favour of Clive continuing to serve on the planning committee. Many of us felt that it was a denial of democracy to exclude him from any committee and that all councillors should be able to play a role in the council, no matter what their politics.
There was a recorded vote and all but one Conservatives plus one Independent voted against. Eleven of the 12 members of the Lib Dem group voted for him to have a committee place, with one abstention. The other Independents and the two Labour members present also voted in favour. At the most recent council meeting on April 23rd the Independent group decided to give up one of their places on the Strategy committee for Clive. So democracy triumphed in the end, thanks to the generosity of the Independent group.