At the Council meeting on the 17th December the Conservatives voted through another change to procedure to further reduce the scrutiny that the Council will have to face. The change was to amend the Code of Corporate Governance to remove the requirement to present an annual scrutiny report.
Scrutiny is one of the most important functions of elected Councillors. It involves looking at Council decisions and checking that they are effective and that making sure that changes of policy will achieve the desired objectives. At a time when finances are so stretched this is a vital function.
Spelthorne Borough Council has had over 35 years of a single party control by the Conservatives and it is too easy in these circumstances to forget about scrutiny. Your Liberal Democrat Councillors have been very effective over the last two and half years at raising issues, asking probing questions and making sure that residents interests are represented. Unfortunately the local Tories don't want to have their administration scrutinised and they have taken action to prevent the Lib Dems from holding them to account.
The Council has adopted the standard CIPFA/Solace framework for corporate governance - the recognised national standard- but when Spelthorne Conservatives realised that this included an annual scrutiny report, they took the deliberate decision to opt out of this one crucial part.
Over the last two years the Tories have eroded the potential for effective scrutiny in the following ways:
• Made the call-in of Cabinet decisions dependent on the agreement of the (Tory) Chairman, where previously any three members could do this.
• Consistently refused to accept issues for scrutiny when they have been put forward by the Liberal Democrats.
• Blocked Liberal Democrats from sitting on important working groups e.g. the grounds maintenance contract renewal and the housing strategy task groups.
• There are now far fewer Task Groups than before as so less issues are being looked in any depth.
Liberal Democrats are in favour of genuine open government and deplore the way that Spelthorne's Conservatives are trying to find ways to prevent active scrutiny of their actions and decisions.