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Grandee raises fears over Bradford Council's democratic process
3:38pm Friday 20th June 2014 in News
COUNCIL grandee Margaret Eaton has raised concerns about the authority's democratic process after a Labour carve-up of scrutiny committees.
Labour councillors made the controversial decision to chair most of the committees themselves, shortly after taking overall control of the authority in this year's local elections.
It prompted angry opposition parties to question how effective Labour councillors would be at holding their own bosses to account.
Now further concerns have been raised by Baroness Eaton (Con, Bingley Rural) at a meeting today of the Council's governance and audit committee, which makes sure the authority is being run by-the-book.
Baroness Eaton, a former leader of the Council, told the meeting she was concerned that "the majority of the scrutiny chairs are with the controlling group".
She said that "knowing the personalities involved", she didn't have any specific concerns about chairmen not being able to fulfil their roles properly.
But she said according to the Centre for Public Scrutiny - a charity set up to promote scrutiny, accountability and good governance in public bodies - it was "assumed that oppositions will chair scrutiny committees".
She said: "I wonder what real justification there is in not following that pattern? There might be one."
City solicitor Suzan Hemingway said there was no legal requirement for opposition members to chair the committees, and that the original aim of scrutiny had been to allow backbench councillors to question the decision-making Executive.
She said there was no reason why a backbench member of a controlling party could not do this, although she "could see why people would be uncomfortable with it".
She said: "I accept that there is a nervousness about it, because that is the obvious risk - that the effectiveness of it can be manipulated in a political way, and I absolutely understand that.
"To be fair, you are right, the personalities involved mean that they will not be manipulated in that way."
Guidance issued by the Centre for Public Scrutiny says in its view, "appointing minority party chairs helps to promote a non-partisan culture in scrutiny, and makes it more likely that scrutiny members (and chairs) will think and act independently".
But it said a survey last year found a fifth of councils instead appointed the chairmen in a way which reflected the political make-up of the authority, and this had "no appreciable impact" on the effectiveness of the scrutiny work.
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