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Conservative Assault on Democracy Spreads from Windsor & Maidenhead to Spelthorne

April 4, 2009 1:00 AM

Following Conservative reductions of the number of opposition members on scrutiny panels in Windsor and Maidenhead and their introduction of the zero debate initiative (allowing the Conservative leader to certify council items as not open to discussion) the Conservative attack on Democracy has spread to neighbouring Spelthorne.

A change in the procedures for scrutiny has been proposed which will have the effect of restricting scrutiny of key Council decisions. If the change is passed by the Council it will be impossible for opposition councillors to call a scrutiny committee meeting to review a decision.

Under the current constitution any three scrutiny committee members can "call-in" an Executive decision. The proposed change will mean that a special meeting cannot be called unless the committee Chairman agrees. Since the Chairman is a member of the ruling group only items that the Conservatives agree to being scrutinised will be allowed to be "called in".

In the past two years only two items have been called in and one of those was handled at a scheduled committee meeting. So the idea that this was in some way an unacceptable burden or that opposition councillors were behaving unreasonably is just not true.

Opposition councillors have on a number of occasions asked for items to be included on the scrutiny committee agenda, but these requests have been refused. The Tories seem to be unconcerned about whether or not there is proper scrutiny of key decisions.

This change has been described as an "improvement" by the Conservatives. Despite this the Tories did not consult with Opposition members in advance; the measure was "announced" to Councillors by it appearing on the Executive agenda.