Involving ALL Groups in ALL Council Decisions
At the Full Council meeting last night, it was announced that on Monday, I will be joining the Folkestone and Hythe District Council Cabinet as Cabinet member for Revenues, Benefits, Anti-Fraud and Corruption.
This is NOT a coalition or support deal. I and the Lib Dem Group retain all rights to speak out against, oppose and vote against Council decisions we disagree with. Lesley Whybrow as Green Group Leader is also joining the Cabinet on the same terms with the Climate Change brief, and Connor McConville as Labour Group Leader has been offered a place too and is actively discussing with colleagues. All three opposition group leaders were offered the same opportunity at the same time.
In September I moved the motion on moving the Council to a Committee system, amongst other reasons specifically because the Cabinet system excludes non leadership groups from the executive, and therefore are locked out of participating in many key decisions, and even from seeing all the information on those decisions. I was pleased a variant of that motion passed unanimously.
The Council have responded positively to that motion. Although work was quickly started and external advice sought, it rapidly came clear that even with the best will getting that change in place by May 2020 was unlikely. We will push to see that constitutional change agreed, completed and made to happen by May 2021 - but that's 15 months away. At that time, it was agreed work would continue, but the Council would seek to use the options it had control of to mitigate the problems of the exclusion of non leadership groups from the Cabinet.
At that time, Council Leader David Monk made a groundbreaking offer, that to my knowledge has not been tried anywhere else in the UK. That offer was for the leader of each of the opposition groups to join the Cabinet, each as full voting members, jointly or severally, and for them to take a portfolio to help drive forward the areas of the work of the Council.
The majority control of the cabinet would be retained by a majority of the voting members and Leader being from the Conservative / UKIP / Independent coalition. The other groups will remain free to vote against Council or Cabinet proposals, put amendments, motions and questions. As an example, the Lib Dem Group remain opposed to the current proposed development of Princes Parade, and will continue to fight it.
Quite rightly, it is expected that if a Cabinet member votes and speaks one way on a motion at Cabinet, they should then act consistently with that outside Cabinet. Of course they should - they'd look stupid any other way.
Accordingly, both Lesley Whybrow, as Green Group Leader, and I, as Lib Dem Group Leader, have agreed to join the Cabinet on that basis. We genuinely hoped, and continue to hope, that Connor McConville as Labour Group Leader will join as well, but it is for Labour to make their own decision in their own time.
I genuinely think that the proposal is a bold initiative that is to David and his group's credit. I feel sure will be watched closely by others nationally, and has a great chance of accentuating the positive and seeing considerable consensus on some areas of the Councils work. And while it is in place we will continue to work on a package of constitutional change to bring forward to the May 2021 AGM to "bake in" the principles of cross party involvement in decision making and access to information.
This is *not* a coalition, and I don't think any Party would want it to be. This is an innovative approach to opening up the executive to all Parties and to hear their views and record their votes on all key decisions. I'm happy to participate on that basis, and genuinely excited to be part of it.
I'm also delighted to have accepted the position of Cabinet Member for Revenues, Benefits, Anti-Fraud and Corruption.
In particular, I want to work with and support our Benefits team and ensure that working with partners we are using all means open to us to tackle homelessness, hidden homelessness and poverty in our district. No-one should have to sleep rough, or sleep hungry, in Folkestone and Hythe. Whatever we CAN do to make that true, I want to ensure we've explored.