Tories ‘trying to stifle criticism on council’

Thursday 4th June 2015 10:00 pm
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A 'coalition' of non-Tory councillors has declared its opposition to cuts and is demanding openness and accountability from South Hams Tory-run council.

Last week the newly elected district council with its even greater Conservative majority demonstrated its grip on the local authority by voting its own members into the chairman and vice chairman positions on every council committee.

The six non-Tory councillors – three Greens, one Labour and two Liberal Democrat councillors – had called for the chairmanship of the council's one scrutiny committee to go to one of their members but were roundly voted down.

This week they announced they had agreed to form a single 'opposition group' on the district council 'to challenge the Tory council and to fight cuts to local public services'.

Lib Dem district councillor Keith Baldry – who is the deputy leader of the new opposition group – claimed it was clear the Conservative majority was attempting to 'stifle criticism and proper scrutiny of their decisions' by steamrollering in the committee appointments.

He said: 'We will do our utmost to be an effective opposition working for the benefit of all South Hams people.

'We will not oppose in a negative way for the sake of it.

'Where we support decisions we will say so; but people can rest assured that where we see bad decisions we will expose them and fight for improvements.'

The opposition group claim that while only 55.3 per cent of voters in the district council elections had voted Tory, the Tories now have 80.6 per cent of the seats on the council and all the seats on the governing executive.

They say there are now 25 Conservative councillors and only six councillors from all other parties to represent the other 44.7 per cent of the electorate and are concerned that this imbalance would be exacerbated by council decisions to:

* Cut the number of scrutiny committees from three to one

* Cut the number of non-Tory councillors involved in monitoring the council from 10 to three.

* Deny the opposition group the opportunity to chair the scrutiny committee

* Hold no full council meeting for the next four and a half months – leaving all decisions to the Tory executive.

The opposition protested that in the new council there is now only one remaining overview and scrutiny committee and only three of the remaining six non-Conserv­at­ive councillors have been offered a place on it.

Their bid to put Cllr Baldry in the chairman's position on the one scrutiny committee remaming was rejected and Ivybridge's Conservat­ive councillor Mike Saltern was handed the job instead.

A bid to hold an extra council meeting in July instead of waiting until October was also rejected by the Tory majority.

Dartington's Green councillor Jacqi Hodgson, leader of the new opposition group said: 'The unilateral decision of South Hams Council officers to close the income generation working group, with no avenues for council members to bring ideas that could increase the council's revenue, is a clear indication of the intension to ignore opportunities to counter the impacts of austerity that have already reduced council services.'

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