Walden Reporter: Call for radical council overhaul gets cross party support

Saffron Walden Reporter editor Sam Tonkin wrote an excellent article that covered the launch of the WeAreResidents.org John Lodge election campaign this week. Following on from our press release, John gave Archant (owner of Walden Reporter and Dunmow Broadcast) an exclusive interview during which they covered a range of Essex County Council portfolio topics as well as other district council related issues.

We recommend you read the full article (link at bottom), but here is an abstract of one of the major threads of the discussion, the problems that have resulted from the adoption of the cabinet system at Uttlesford District Council. From the Saffron Walden Reporter:

A RADICAL overhaul of Uttlesford’s political landscape has been called for to better represent the views of residents in the district. Saffron Walden-based WeAreResidents.org want to see party politics abolished [at the district level] and the cabinet system scrapped.

It follows the group’s launch of an election campaign backing a new independent Saffron Walden candidate [John Lodge] to stand in May’s Essex County Council elections. The 67-year-old vowed to “properly represent” the views of people in the area after accusing existing councillors of having to toe the party line rather than acting in the best interests of residents.

“Party politics prevent councillors from representing people’s views and the problem has got worse since the cabinet system was brought in,” Mr Lodge told the Reporter. “There are a relatively small number of councillors making decisions behind closed doors and that leaves non-cabinet members unable to express their views because they are stuck on the outside.”

He added: “Councillors shouldn’t be forced to toe the party line when it is not in the interests of those they represent or a view that they share. That happens far too often at this level and I don’t think it’s right. It needs a number of individuals, like me, representing the views of the people.”

Mr Lodge’s comments have won backing from Uttlesford’s Liberal Democrat group and a non-cabinet Conservative councillor.

Conservative Debden and Wimbish representative Cllr Tina Knight said: “I have never been a fan of the cabinet system and believe local issues should be above party politics.”

Lib Dem leader David Morson, who represents Henham and Elsenham, told the Reporter: “We have always been opposed to the cabinet system because it excludes the majority of councillors. What we liked about the committee system was that every councillor felt a part of the process and it was not just a few members involved in decision-making.”

But leader of the Conservative- run Uttlesford District Council, Jim Ketteridge, hit back. “If a situation arose where a council had a majority of elected members who had stood as an independent, that grouping would then have to form an administration, elect a leader, appoint chairmen, and decide policies and spending commitments,” he said. “Most councils have Independent groupings and a group leader.”

WeAreResidents.org has pointed to Loughton as a blueprint for planting the seeds of change. In 1981, Loughton Residents Association put forward its first councillor to fight an application for a supermarket. Twenty three years later it earned control of the town council by 18 members to four and, in 2010, won five new seats on Epping Forest District Council to become the main opposition group to the Conservatives.

Interesting in a January 2013 that survey WeAreResidents.org conducted, 96% of respondents indicated that county and district councillors should represent their local communities and not a party political agenda.

Residents are urged to attend John’s “Meet and Greet” on Sunday February 17 at 7:30PM at the Scout Hall on Saffron Walden High Street.

Read the full article in the Walden Reporter (page 1) and a shorter version in sister paper the Dunmow Broadcast (page 16).

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Posted in Essex County Council, Papers, Spotlight Articles, Uttlesford District Council, Uttlesford Local Plan
One comment on “Walden Reporter: Call for radical council overhaul gets cross party support
  1. Neil Hargreaves says:

    So two issues, cabinet government excluding many of our elected representatives, and councillors pressurised to vote with the party against their constituents interests

    I believe the cabinet system was a Tony Blair initiative to streamline local government decision making. All fine if you are in the cabinet knowing that you are right and everyone else doesn’t understand/is ill informed/ is a pleb etc

    Question. Is the cabinet system mandatory?

    As for councillors voting with the party, I think this is up to the integrity of the individuals. In Newport we had our doubts as our Conservative councillor would never put anything in writing. But my feeling is that if the final plan involves dumping hundreds of houses on Newport he will be the local hero and vote for those who elected him and not as directed by his Conservative leaders. Some of whom have been accused of putting their personal interests ahead of those of the district

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