An Argument Over Chairs

On Thursday evening we had the first formal meeting of the Council for the new municipal year. The local Conservatives made quite a fuss about Chairs. Let me explain…

The first full Council following the elections is always interesting as there will be new faces appearing and also people in new positions, some of them looking to assert themselves and get noticed. In this context it was interesting to observe the new dynamics within the opposition group, the Conservatives, who now form a unit of 6 men and 1 woman since Councillors Pam MacIntyre and Judith Wallace resigned from the Tories to sit as Independents.

One of the items that the Conservatives sought to raise for debate was the allocation of Chairs within the system of Scrutiny Committees. For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of the Council ‘scrutiny’ involves elected members from various wards around the borough (of all parties) examining the policies, decisions and spending of the Mayor and her cabinet. This opportunity to poke, prod and challenge is absolutely central to local democracy. I’m really proud of our scrutiny system in North Tyneside. In my experience senior council figures recognise and respect the need for accountability and are willing to attend the meetings in order to explain and defend their policy priorities. Similarly, the Chairs of the committees operate fairly, without fear or favour.

The argument at the Council meeting arose because the Conservatives felt that it isn’t fair that they don’t hold any Chair or Deputy Chair positions. I confess, I did find this pretty hard to swallow. In my years of being a Committee Chairperson I have found the Conservatives to be amongst the worst attenders. When they are polite enough to actually turn up to the meeting they rarely take use the occasion to ask questions on behalf of residents. Of course, I took the opportunity to point this out, suggesting that if they want to play a part in the Scrutiny process then a good place to begin would be to show up and actually participate to the meetings that are in the calendar.

It really is worth remembering that there are 51 Labour Councillors which mans that whilst we’re all on the same team we don’t all see the world in exactly the same way. My colleagues have skills and experience in areas I don’t, and of course, represent different communities. So, although we share an overall commitment to the strategy being delivered by the Mayor and her Cabinet, we can and do debate with one another too. This is healthy democracy and it is all done on the understanding that everyone wants the very best for you, the residents of the borough.

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