Horsham MP Francis Maude’s column in last week’s Horsham edition of the County Times on the alternative forms of governance in local government is a useful personal insight.
His dismissal of the old committee system, based on his experience on Westminster Council, displays some chutzpah; this was the council which, just a few years after his time, instituted the illegal scheme which became known as ‘Homes for Votes’ for which Dame Shirley Porter was personally surcharged £13 million and I would suspect that the ruling group’s relationship to democratic process was always tenuous.
My own experience with the committee system on Horsham District Council was of one that gave all members a chance to contribute and shape policy.
The best example of this was the sub-committee which, ultimately, steered in the formation of Saxon Weald.
Initially there were three Tories and two Lib Dems on the committee and we all challenged any proposal which could have been detrimental to the tenants.
Later the committee co-opted tenants and representatives of staff impacted by our plans and I find it difficult to see how a cabinet system would have achieved the same working dynamic.
On the other hand my experience at HDC of Cabinet government was that backbenchers were excluded from decision making and felt under-used and undervalued.
Francis Maude’s throwaway comments on elected mayors are interesting - is he issuing a veiled threat to the local Tory Group to sort themselves out or face a system where most of them become superfluous or is he starting to build a defence for the unloved Police Commissioners (a Tory initiative) whose powers are uncannily like those of elected Mayors (a New Labour initiative)?
Whatever it is it’s bound to be more than a weekend civics lesson.
Coniston Close, Horsham