Thursday, 13 June 2013

Is this the right way to choose a Leader of Barnet Council

Since 2002, we've had a Conservative administration. Every four years there is a Council election where we choose 63 councillors. Most people in Barnet naively think that the person who leads the party at the election is the person who we've chosen and so will continue to lead the party. Sadly in Barnet (Pop 320,000), things don't work like that.

This is what has happened
2002 - Tories Elected - Victor Lyon Elected -  replaced by Brian Salinger 2005
2006 - Brian Salinger elected - replaced by Mike Freer 24 hours later. Freer steps down in 2009 to be replaced by Lynne Hillan.
2010 - Lynne Hillan Elected, passes away 2011, replaced by Richard Cornelius.

Many people in Barnet are unaware of the way the Leader is chosen.  This is done on a vote of the 36 Conservative councillors. So the Leader of Barnet Council can be changed at whim by a mere 19 people ( a majority of the Conservative Group) in a secret vote, the day after an election (as happened in 2006) - not democracy in my book. What makes me uneasy about the process is the fact that under the Barnet Council cabinet system, jobs within the 11 person cabinet are at the gift of the leader and these come with substancially enhanced allowances, as do the roles of chair of various committees.The cabinet has almost total power, to the exclusion of the other 52 councillors.

Any process within local government where people with a possible vested interest in a decision have a key role in the decision making, is to my mind not a good way to do business. I am in agreement with the current Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius, that the Cabinet system is flawed. Richard is keen to return to the committee system, where all 63 councillors have a role and a part to play. As committees would elect their own chair, this would ensure a degree of independence. Barnet has seen some awful decisions since the Cabinet system was introduced (under Labour). The council has repeatedly ended up in court, facing all manner of legal actions from residents, unions and even suppliers. No one can claim that the system is delivering.

For the record, I don't think that the process is corrupt and anyone who thought any of the present or past leadership "bought the office" is being rather silly. There are clear factions within the Barnet Tories and the jobs tend to roll out accordingly. I do not believe the system has been abused, but clearly there is significant room for improvement. Whilst there is no way that the Conservative group can be dictated to on how a leader is elected, we can ask that the cabinet system is scrapped, so that all councillors have a degree of say in the structure and it is transparent.

Whilst I disagree with many of the policy decisions that Richard Cornelius has made, I still believe him to be a decent and honest chap. I sincerely hope that he recognises the flaws in the system and carries through his promise to bring back the committee system. If he does he will be doing a big service to Barnet. I also believe it will make the job of Leader easier as it will ensure that "big personalities" in the cabinet have to take regard of all of their colleagues.

1 comment:

Morris Hickey said...

I seem to remember the very last GLC election in 1981 when the Labour Party at County Hall, led by Andrew McIntosh, defeated the Conservative administration. Just 24 hours later Ken Livingstone ousted McIntosh to become the Leader whom the voters had not elected.