28th September 2018
South Lanarkshire people have been badly let down by the SNP administration’s broken promises of greater Council openness, according to Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown. Robert Brown made his criticism after a move to strengthen the full Council meeting as the place for big decisions to be made, particularly with regard to the Budget was narrowly defeated at Wednesday’s meeting of the Council.
The motion, jointly put forward by Labour Group Leader Joe Fagan and the Liberal Democrats, called for the full Budget to be decided by all Councillors at the full Council meeting, rather than by a smaller group of senior Councillors in the Executive Committee.
Robert Brown said:
“I have been dissatisfied with the way South Lanarkshire Council works since I joined the Council in 2012. Most people would expect key decisions, not least about the Budget, to be taken by the full Council in the Council Chamber after a decent debate about the different options. Instead many full Council meetings are a formality where the roll call of attendance is taken, the minutes are formally approved and nothing much else of significance happens. The key decisions are made instead at Committees which are much less low key and which do not involve all Councillors.
The result is that there is little public interest in the Council, no awareness of the different views of the political parties or of different Councillors and far less democratic scrutiny than there need be.
My view is that the full Council should make the final decision on key matters – whether it be the Budget, the closure of care homes, the shape of nursery provision or other major decisions. The setting up of the Petitions Committee has been agreed and will be a positive step. However other Councils have a proper Question Time when Committee conveners can be questioned and challenged on any issues of concern. I think South Lanarkshire should consider that too.
There was great dissatisfaction with how all this worked at the time of the last Budget in February and I took the matter up with the Chief Executive and the Leaders of the other Parties at that time with a number of proposals about how things should change. I must say I felt this was something on which there should be common ground so it was a big disappointment when the minority Administration with the curious support of the Independent group decided to block any real change. The SNP Group have talked about the need for greater transparency but they have let people down badly by this partisan closed-shop approach. Instead of a real opportunity to modernise the system and restore much greater democratic control, they have preferred to play machine politics.
The Council currently has a minority SNP Administration and it is obvious that there needs to be a much more open process of Council decision making. Our proposal for change was backed by the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative Councillors – unfortunately there were some unexpected absentees for a variety of reasons – so I expect we will see further moves to make the Council more open and democratic. I really don’t think the SNP can continue to thwart moves for change indefinitely.
Motion received in terms of Standing Order No 19 on 10 September 2018, proposed by Councillor Joe Fagan, seconded by Councillor Robert Brown.
“That the Council asserts the importance of openness, transparency and democratic accountability in our political management and decision-making arrangements; believes that full meetings of the Council should be strengthened as a forum for political debate and decision and, to that end, agrees:
- 1) That, as a priority, Officers be asked to review the Terms of Reference for Council, Committees and Forums and other procedural documentation and advise of any changes which would be required in order to reserve the power to approve the annual savings package to the Council in addition to all Revenue and Capital Budgets. This advice to be provided in the form of a report to Council by December 2018 for formal determination.
- 2) That the Standing Orders, Terms of Reference for Committees and Forums and other procedural documentation be reviewed, including any enhancements to the role of the Council, by the Standards and Procedures Advisory Forum and its recommendations be reported in the first instance to the Executive Committee, as parent committee of the Standards and Procedures Advisory Forum, prior to any referral to Council.
- 3) That, as part of said review, recommendations be made on how the Standing Orders, Terms of Reference for Committees and Forums and other procedural documentation be amended to enhance the role of the Council on key policy initiatives and other issues the Standards and Procedures Advisory Forum considers appropriate.”