Rochford Council vote to gag the opposition

At the Council meeting held on Tuesday 29 July the Conservative Administration pushed through a motion removing the right of Councillors to refer decisions made by perhaps only a cabinet member to the Full Council.

This decision is a massive blow to democracy and is reported in today’s Echo newspaper

Echo 31 July 2014
Echo 31 July 2014

The Green party objected to this motion and the Group to which we belong (Green & Rochford District Residents) spoke strongly against this diminution of democracy and accountability with both Cllr Michael Hoy and Group Leader Cllr John Mason making impassioned speeches against.

In fact most of the opposition made very powerful speeches refuting the reasoning behind the motion with Cllr Toby Mountain pointing out the hypocrisy present in the Conservative motion with some of those putting their name to the motion actually having given a contrary point of view to him privately.

It is also worth mentioning that on the night 7 Conservatives failed to turn up for the meeting and they will have a hard time explaining to their residents why they were not there.

The Speech from Cllr Michael Hoy is reproduced below.

I will be voting against this motion tonight because, as a great believer in democracy and accountability, I see this motion as striking at the heart of both of those ideals.

As Thomas Paine said

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”
― Thomas Paine

I say to those members now who fail to vote against this motion, you will not be trusted.

The motion as drafted severely restricts democracy and the accountability of this Council and goes against the principle outlined in the forward of our Constitution which says:

“The Constitution sets out how the Council operates, how decisions are made and the procedures followed to ensure that these are efficient, transparent and accountable to local people.”

And in Article 1 of the Constitution it says the Purposes of the Constitution includes

“to create a powerful and effective means of holding decision-makers to public account;”

The motion in my view will reduce transparency and accountability of decisions and make for a badly run Council, it removes one of those key tools which provides for accountability, the referral.   This is a motion seemingly designed to prevent the opposition from being a check and balance to the administration’s cabinet system, a check which has been rarely used but which is there to provide an examination of the administrations decisions: to make sure they are made in accordance with the Councils policy and financial framework and that they are legally compliant.

The justification for the removal of this power can be found In the final paragraph where there is a mention of the cost of referral’s and the significant delay they allegedly cause. Referral’s happen very rarely as I have already said in fact I have looked back and the last time, before tonight, that I can see a decision being referred is October 2012.  On this basis I cannot see that the process is being abused and the business of the Council being particularly delayed.

However if this motion is passed tonight I have concerns over the catch-all description of paragraph 15 which covers referral’s to both the Council and the Review Committee and I seek assurances from our legal officer that the supporting wording of the first paragraph does have the effect of restricting the motion only to referral’s to the Full Council by three Councillors.

I will finish with one more quote, from someone who will perhaps appeal to the movers of this motion.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Winston Churchill

Please have the courage to listen and either withdraw this motion or vote against.

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2 thoughts on “Rochford Council vote to gag the opposition

  1. This sounds like they have changed the basic constitutional rules, which is not generally allowed without a full vote of all concerned, ie the voters. In this area of government, isn’t there some basic rule of law that prevents this?

  2. Yes the constitution was changed by removing the section allowing for referral by three members to Full Council. Changes to the constitution can be made by a majority vote of the Council.

    You may be thinking of changes to the type of Council, from say the current Cabinet style to the Committee style favoured by us and most of the opposition, which can be done by a referendum of the residents, if enough signatures are obtained to request it. I think it needs around 3,500 signatures to get to a referendum in Rochford.

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