So this rather long post is all in response to some questions about parking charges Andrew Marsden has raised on his local blog. Andrew’s comments are put in quotes.
The Conservative opposition assisted by the Liberal Democrats announced in February their success during a full council meeting. They obtained a democratic decision at the full council meeting to reverse increases to Car Parking charges thus amending the CMBC annual budget due to be implemented with effect from 1st April 2014.
Assuming as with a vote at Westminster a vote in the full CMBC Council is binding and can only be over turned by another vote the planned Calderdale increased Car Parking chargesmust be reversed? If this is not so Democracy in CMBC is an illusion, it does not exist
Before the budget Council meeting the Liberal Democrats and Conservative groups publicly announced they would make an amendment to Labour’s budget proposals. This amendment included a line on improving local parking arrangements. At the start of that meeting Labour announced they would bring forward a revised set of budget proposals that actually accepted the vast majority of that amendment put forward by the opposition group. One of the lines they accepted included the proposal to reverse the recent parking charges. You can see in the minutes their budget proposals are described as ‘revised’ and there is money allocated in the Economy & Environment budget to cover the cost of local parking improvements. In the meeting Labour said (and I paraphrase) “that this parking change was not one they would have chosen, but they were happy to accept that revision”. It is not even the case that Labour were outvoted on this, but rather they accepted this change and voted for it themselves.
Barry Collins CMBC Cabinet’s Deputy Leader did state “Cabinet will be reporting to full council in the near future on the review process required by the budget decision on parking charges taken earlier in the year” See Car Parking, with a possible sting in the tail? June 2014. Do we now know this was a delaying tactic meaning the Cabinet will not accept this change?
The February meeting was budget Council. At this meeting the full Council sets the budget for the following financial year. Following that meeting at annual Council in May the Council appoints a leader. Calderdale Council currently operates under a cabinet system introduced by Tony Blair through the Local Government Act 2000. Under this system the Council elects a leader and then the leader appoints a cabinet. The cabinet is the main decision making body who have executive powers to implement the budget.
So Councillor Collins was right, the cabinet would have to create a paper on reversing the charges. Also we are told the change in parking would require a traffic regulation order and as such there would need to be a statutory review process. Some Conservatives have argued the charges could have been reversed under a different legal procedure.
As we are aware of the outdated, overly complex, confusing, labyrinthine bureaucracy that is CMBC we must assume there are legal ways and means for a minority of members to overrule a full council vote!
Is this recent decision to overrule a full council vote legal or not? If it is legal thenDemocracy in CMBC is indeed an illusion, smoke and mirrors. Was it that Opposition Conservatives, Liberal Democrats not understanding CMBC rules were simply lead up the garden path by those who do!
It is the case in minority administrations that the cabinet could make an executive decision within the budget set by full-Council that did not implement the full will of the Council. In this instance despite the Labour group announcing they would support the decision they have decided instead to use the money allocated in the budget (under a line ‘improving local parking arrangements) not to do as they said they would e.g. reverse the charges, but rather announce a prize freeze.
It is my view that this is an undemocratic way in which to operate a cabinet in a minority administration. The Council elects a leader to implement the will of the Council and its budget. In this instance that leader and his cabinet have done a u-turn on what they said to carry on with the parking charges that Cllr Barry Collin’s is obviously keen to see retained.
Does Council Leader Tim Swift or the up and coming Conservative Leader in waiting Scott Benton need to consult the CMBCOracle, as to whether this is legal and then let ratepayers know the answer expressed in non political words folk can understand.
The CMBC Oracle, who is this you ask! Calderdale’s exceedingly well paid legal beaver the Senior Officer for Democratic and Partnership Services, Ian R Hughes. He will know!
It is legal in my opinion. You could argue that the cabinet was acting ultra vires if it spent a budget allocated for x on y, but in this instance the expenditure is still on local parking charges so that argument wouldn’t hold any water. You have to understand that full Council sets a budget, elects a leader and then that leader is free to wield executive power or simply ignore full Council. Ultimately of course Council still has the power to sack the leader if they are not being listened to. At the annual Council Cllr Tim Swift was elected leader with the support of the Conservative group. He then went onto form his minority Labour administration.
Or has the Ruling Party just re grouped to out manoeuvre the opposition? If so will any opposition leader “fess up” to being outsmarted instead of crying foul?
I don’t think anyone is calling foul, but rather calling u-turn. The Labour party accepted this change themselves, everyone understood the change would happen. Cllr Collin’s and Cllr Swift said to me before annual Council that they would listen to opposition parties and not carry on as if they had a majority. Now it seems Cllr Collin’s and Cllr Swift never really meant to reverse this parking change. They schemed instead to keep evening charges and use the money allocated for this price freeze (although I didn’t know a price rise was on the cards, so where will the rest of the money go?). So that’s where we are and how we got there. Now where are things heading to?
Although cabinet has executive powers, the scrutiny panel can call-in decisions. – The evening parking charges will be called into the Economy and Environment scrutiny panel, I’ve signed a call in notice requesting this and the Conservatives are asking for this too. The panel will have a chance to question the executive as to why they have done a u-turn and ignored the clear will of full Council. There will also be questions around the cost of the new cabinet proposals. The panel can agree to release the decision for implementation, recommend to cabinet that it reconsiders or refer the matter back to full Council.
Ultimately unless the leadership of Calderdale Council is challenged then Labour could just push ahead, ignoring everyone else and implementing the decision. I believe Cllr Barry Collin’s is stubborn enough to try and push this through. The question will be really whether the rest of the Labour group will let him push through an unpopular policy or whether the political pressure will build and force them to do another u-turn.