`What price, democracy?`

This is a quote from Cllr Martin Terry at today’s Cabinet meeting at the council. More on that and another interesting Terry quote later!

Today was the first Cabinet meeting of the year and from what I hear was a fairly quiet and slow paced affair. It apparently was interesting to see Bernard and Anne Chalk only 2 seats from her (or if rumours are to be believed his) opponent Mike Assenheim.

The meeting started off with a series of motions being passed. They removed the number of refugees Southend would help and passed the refugee motion, they passed the Sunday trading and TTIP motion rejected the Southend Borough Patrol motion. It was interesting that PCC candidate Martin Terry spoke on this issue and said the following ` i hadnt seen the exact wording of this statement even though i supported it (cllr terry was named as one of the co signatories on the motion) but i thought it would be nice to have a chance to debate the options available now that we are losing PCSOs. Lets not forget the fact that there is no difference between a PCSO and the people who formed the Southend Borough Patrol` Now i hope that if he is elected he will treat PCSOs with a lot more respect. Cllr Norman asked for further time to investigate `the local connection` issue and whether that should be extended to 7 years rather than 3.

One further motion that was put forward was for the council to be reduced by one councillor per ward down from 51 – 34 and to hold elections once every 4 years. Now this motion was changed as a lot of the cabinet (Cllrs Terry, Betson and Gilbert) couldn`t support the motion as it stood although they all felt it should be discussed at full council. This change couldn`t occur without a public consultation and permission from the Local Government Agency and what I hadnt realised was that it was not possible to move from an election every 3 years to an election every 2 years except in exceptional circumstances and so if they were to change the electoral cycle then it would have to be every 4 years and have all up elections.

There were some interesting responses from Cllrs Terry and Woodley and i will come to those at the end.  I want to address the general principles at play first.

I think the above proposal has 2 different facets 1)reducing the number of councillors and 2) reducing the number of elections.

Focussing on the first issue, i have some sympathy for the view expressed that ward councillors should be reduced from 3 down to 2. In most wards I could name you one councillor who is working very hard, 1 councillor who is working slightly less hard and one councillor who is having a free ride. I wont do so on this blog but it is fairly easy to do (oh go on! – ed). I think therefore in theory reducing the number of councillors will save money and overall be a good idea although i am concerned that there may be a situation where 1 ward has a member of cabinet or chair of a scrutiny group (which takes up a lot of time) and if the other councillor of that group then is mayor that ward will then have a situation where they are not being adequately represented. Given 10 councillors would either be chairs or part of the cabinet then this could very easily happen and so some consideration would need to be given to this possibility but it could work.

The issue of all up elections every 4 years is one where i strongly disagree. Cllr Moyies apparently argued today that it would reduce time wastage in Council. He complained that for 3 months of the year nothing can happen because of purdah and that if you had all up elections this would speed processes up and give administrations a mandate to carry out a 4 year plan. My opposition to all up elections is based on many views. Firstly it would reduce the need for individuals to campaign as many people would vote along party lines and not for individuals eg a Labour voter would vote for both the Labour candidates regardless of skill. This would mean that the national mood at the time would hugely affect the outcomes eg an anti Labour feeling nationally will wipe out most Labour councillors. I am not sure this will benefit the council as national mood swings annually and it will depend where that shift is nationally at that particular moment. I also dont think all up elections are democratic as you then have to wait 4 years before you can have your voice on how a party is doing (i include the independent party in that statement). They say a week is a long time in politics, well 4 years is certainly a long time to have your say.  Having an election every 3 years means the parties and candidates have to keep going to the electorate and asking what they think about matters which can only be a good thing. Having elections every 4 years means the electorate can be ignored for 3 years and spoken to for 1.

Cllr Woodley made an interesting statement as he tried to get this pushed through and he said ` never let it be forgotten that we can follow Leigh Town’s example and have a town/parish council for every ward in order to keep it democratic`.  Surely this would rather negate any savings made by not holding a local election as the elections for these would be yearly?

Cllr Terry said `What price democracy?, i am not sure i agree with the motion but think that it would be good to debate this in full council (so far, fair enough and indeed the final proposal was changed so that it would go to Full Council to be debated) however this would not be looked at unless we werent experiencing huge budget cuts from Central Government`.

This surely is a damning statement and underlines why it is a bad idea. IF something would not have been changed unless it was to save money then surely it is not a good idea in the first place because otherwise the issue around money would not be important.


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