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Friday, 21 September 2012

No Confidence

Below is the text of a letter that I sent to the West Briton yesterday before the news of a motion of no confidence in Cllr Robertson, the Leader of Cornwall Council, broke today. I have added a post script since.

It should be noted that it takes a stand alone Independent, with the support of all six MK councillors and others to act in this decisive way to try and stand up for democracy in Cornwall.

The Independent 'Group' should be ashamed that they have not acted before to put an end to this anti-democratic administration. The Lib Dems should get fully behind this motion instead of playing party political games as to whether they can get most party political advantage by watching from the sidelines and stirring the pot occassionally.

Dear Sir,

The egocentric decision of Cornwall Council’s cabinet to ignore the will of the full council and to proceed with the privatisation of public services in Cornwall has been extremely well documented over the past few weeks.

A petition has been launched with the aim of gathering 5000 signatures to force a further debate at full council level about the privatisation scheme. This petition is supported by Mebyon Kernow and, indeed, has been championed by MK councillor Andrew Long of Callington. Certainly anything that might make the cabinet stop and listen to the democratic will of the people of Cornwall is worth a try.

In my opinion the problem with this petition is that it is treating a symptom of a problem rather than the underlying cause.

The real difficulty that we have in Cornwall is that an arrogant group of 10 people are flattered by unelected council officers into making decisions that are either overtly party political or mechanisms used to build the CV of the council executive its officers. This situation has arisen because of the ‘strong leader’ mode of governance that was introduced when the Unitary Authority came into being in 2009.

Mebyon Kernow believes, and is fighting for, a more democratic system of council governance where important decisions need to be approved by a majority of all the elected councillors rather than just 6 people in a bunker on the top floor of New County Hall.

Ultimately a committee system of governance would be far more democratic and much less susceptible to undue influence from unelected officers. However, even the current method of governance would be more democratic if you had people at the top level who were prepared to listen to elected councillors and the ordinary person on the street a little more.

This brings me to the real point that I would like to make. Yes the governance system needs to be changed, but, perhaps more importantly, whoever is leading the council under whatever system has to understand that they should be listening more to the people of Cornwall and less to the unelected career officials.

Whatever system of governance is adopted will make not a jot of difference unless councillors do more to stand up for the people who elected them – politicians who are prepared to put Cornwall first.

The independent councillor Andrew Wallace has started this well publicised petition on the privatisation issue but why is he and his ‘Independent Group’ not doing more to rid us of the egotistical cabinet that he protests about?

Cornwall Council is run by a Conservative/Independent coalition. For Cllr Wallace to protest about the anti-democratic nature of the cabinet and still remain part of an Independent Group, which effectively keeps that administration in power, smacks of hypocrisy on a Liberal Democrat scale. Time after time so called independent councillors complain about decisions made in Truro while their ‘group’ (which has no electoral mandate whatsoever) keeps the cabinet in office. Perhaps it is time for independents to exert their independence and lay down a motion of no confidence in the current leader.

Then again this might mean losing the privileges that their place in the administration accrue – better then to construct petitions safe in the knowledge that their privileges are secure?

The day after I originally submitted this letter to the West Briton it was announced that there was to be a vote of no confidence in the Cllr Alec Robertson, the Leader of Cornwall Council.

As I understand it the motion has been brought forward by a ‘stand-alone’ Independent councillor (not a member of the Independent Group), Bob Egerton. Thank goodness there are still some real Independents out there! The motion is also supported by all six MK councillors.

Many members of the Westminster parties and the Independent Group now seem to be hedging their opinions. If I were at all cynical I would imagine that there will be a lot of horse trading going on over the next few weeks.

For example, there seems to be a move to tie this vote of no confidence to the privatisation of public services issue. I have heard a Lib Dem councillor say that they wanted Cllr Robertson to explain his ideas on shared services a little better.

Surely this vote is about whether it is acceptable for a council Leader, and a small bunch of carefully selected individuals, to ignore the combined will of the elected members of Cornwall Council. It should not be about gaining small concessions on any individual instance of this arrogance and it certainly should not be used as a way of gaining a party political advantage over a failing administration. Time and again the cabinet has ignored the instruction and advice of elected Members and this vote should be about saying that enough is enough and about restoring some form of democracy to local government in Cornwall.

I would like to say thank you to Cllr Egerton – he is acting to solve the root cause of many problems with Cornwall Council and not merely treating one individual symptom.

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