Sometimes, you can look at a Boston Borough Council report and know instinctively that nothing will be done about it.So it is with tonight’s Corporate and Community Committee meeting, which includes on its agenda a report by Chief Executive Richard Harbord to consider options for an alternative system of political management which could see the return of the committee system.
Committees were much maligned before their disappearance a dozen years ago.
But if nothing else, they gave off an air of thoroughness, and – dare we say it – a sense of democracy.
Yes – they were cumbersome and long-winded, but, as the report reminds us, the committees discussed everything concerning their particular service, and the chairman and vice chairman were elected by the committee members themselves and were not put in place by favouritism or patronage.
This first tier of decision-making was answerable to a Policy and Resources Committee, which took all decisions involving finance, personnel and property – but the full council remained the major debating meeting.
Contrast that with the situation we are now lumbered with in Boston – and Monday night’s full council meeting is a good example.
There are just three items on the agenda.
The first is to receive two sets of minutes of the audit and governance committee; the second is to discuss a report on the local council tax support scheme, and the third – which requires the eviction of the public and press from the chamber, as so often happens – is to receive a report on nominations for service to the community awards.
Without breaking any confidences, we can safely tell you that Boston Eye is not among those nominees.
When the 2000 Local Government Act appeared, it encouraged cabinet government, and was reinforced some years by a rule that leaders should select their own cabinets.
What has this done for us in Boston?
A tiny, smug, elite group of just seven people apparently believe that they have the collective brainpower to know what is best for Boston – and they make sure that no-one is allowed to contradict them.
This is not only arrogant – it is also self-delusory.
Some of these people – often the more vocal – have little if any previous experience in local government, yet adopt a “we-know-best” approach.
Mr Harbord’s report reminds us of the inefficiency of the committee system, which was often overburdened with unnecessary and time-consuming business.
But equally, it is agreed that a benefit of the system was that it involved all members fully in council business.
“Members could ask questions in public, officers were forced to explain reports simply and committees did on occasion put forward a strong case for protection from budget cuts for a particular service,” he says.
Amusingly, he mentions the criticism that the system was “officer led” – apparently overlooking the fact that this same accusation is still being levelled today.
But he fails to mention the greatest problem.
The cabinet system in Boston abuses the democratic process.
The Gang of Seven determines what it wants to happen – and then makes sure that it does.
Open discussion is stifled.
A Tory majority ensures that what the cabinet wants is supported by its sheepish back benchers.
Earlier this week we highlighted the inappropriate decision to use the Boston Town Area Committee as a means of juggling the council balances – not for the first time.
Whilst it is clear that a return to the way things were 12 years ago would be a retrograde step, Mr Harbord’s report tells us: “There are many hybrid systems that could be looked at involving advisory committees, (and a) return to policy and resources committees with a few committees.”
He adds: “The way forward is for an informed discussion at scrutiny, and then – if members wish to explore alternatives to the current system – a further report can come forward with a more detailed proposal for a new governance system.
Is it likely that the council leadership will consider this for a single moment?
We are reminded of a quote from one of the more bombastic members of the cabinet – that “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”
You can write to us at email@example.com Your e-mails will be treated in confidence and published anonymously if requested.Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com