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Conservative plans to abolish many of South Gloucestershire Council’s decision-making committees have been denounced by the district’s Labour councillors.

Four years ago South Gloucestershire became one of the first councils in the country to take advantage of the Tory-led Coalition’s change in the law that enabled a move to committees to take the council’s main policy decisions in public.
 
Prior to the change, the council ran a Cabinet or ‘executive’ system where the power for making decisions was vested in just seven councillors. Many decisions were made by the stroke of a pen behind closed doors. Other councillors – the 90% – could participate in a number of scrutiny committees which could question these decisions, but did not have the power to change them.
 
This week the ruling Conservatives voted to give a green light to return to this system – but with a massively reduced scrutiny set-up.
 
Opposition arguments that committees are more democratic because they involve more elected councillors, and more transparent because they conduct their business in public, were ignored by the ruling Conservatives. 

Conservative councillors also voted down moves to set up a cross-party working group to oversee the arrangements, and a commitment to appoint an opposition councillor as chair of scrutiny, which is national best practice.
 
Labour Group Leader Pat Rooney has denounced the plans, and the attitude, of the Conservatives, saying:
 
“Labour Group’s principle has always been that decisions should be made in public and that all councillors should have a voice and a vote. The committee system delivers just that and has served the public well. Our committees, by law, reflect the political balance of the council, so the majority party is not prevented from getting its way.
 
The significant advantage of our committees is that they have to take decisions in public. That can sometimes be uncomfortable for the decision takers, but our arrangements should be based on what is best for the general public, not the councillors.
 
This change will see South Gloucestershire become the least democratic and transparent council in the West of England. Not only are our Tories reintroducing decisions made behind closed doors, they are also limiting the opposition’s capacity for valid challenge by proposing just one scrutiny commission. All of the other West of England councils have at least four standing scrutiny committees that can monitor specific services and departments in far greater detail.
 
South Gloucestershire used to be praised for its co-operative political culture, but the Tories are trashing this by taking us back to the bad old days where power is concentrated in the hands of a small elite, decisions are made with the stroke of a pen, information is not shared with the vast majority of councillors beforehand and valid challenges get treated with contempt.”
 
The Conservatives’ plans will return to the Council for formal approval in late March 2017 for implementation in May 2017.

South Glos "to become least democratic and transparent" says Labour

Conservative plans to abolish many of South Gloucestershire Council’s decision-making committees have been denounced by the district’s Labour councillors.

Filton councillor Roger Hutchinson has been speaking up for Wallscourt Court Road South residents affected by works on a Filton railway line following the Conservative Government’s announcement of a delay to its electrification.

The Filton cul de sac is being used as the access route for lorries to reach the railway track, and rail authorities have taken down fences and removed trees and foliage from the area and along the track to carry out work to double the number of tracks to four. The ‘four tracking’ work is being carried out between Bristol Temple Meads and Bristol Parkway, and will allow for the later electrification of the line. However, earlier this week the Government announced that the electrification project is being delayed.

Filton_-_Roger_Hutchinson.jpgSpeaking at the council’s Environment and Communities Committee yesterday, Councillor Hutchinson urged council officials to apply pressure on the government and rail chiefs to communicate with residents as a matter of urgency about the implications of the announcement, and repair any unnecessary damage caused by the current work.

Councillor Hutchinson says:

“Wallscourt Court Road South residents have suffered great disruption due to their road being turned into a lorry access route. Now the government is delaying the planned electrification work on the new track, and local people are angry and unclear whether the disruption will continue as planned and has been worth the trouble. The government and rail company must do all they can to remedy any unnecessary disruption, and if necessary compensate those directly affected.”

Filton disruption criticised

Filton councillor Roger Hutchinson has been speaking up for Wallscourt Court Road South residents affected by works on a Filton railway line following the Conservative Government’s announcement of a delay...

South Gloucestershire Council’s ruling Conservatives today voted to scrap funding for the Exercise on Prescription scheme – a move that Labour says shows the effect of austerity cuts.

The widely respected Exercise on Prescription scheme allows for health professionals to refer inactive patients for a regime of physical activity as part of managing a range of medical conditions. However, with the council’s Public Health budget being squeezed in the same way as all other services, this scheme can no longer be afforded. Councillors at this afternoon’s decision-making Adults, Children and Health Committee were told that “the existing model of delivery and management of the service is no longer sustainable and we do not have the capacity to manage the volume of referrals.”

Councillor Gareth Manson, who questioned the proposal at today's Adults, Children and Health Committee, says:

“Despite claims by central Government that there are no cuts to NHS services, this does not apply to Public Health since those services were transferred to local councils a few years ago. Public Health budgets are, therefore, subject to the same cuts as all other council services unless political decisions are made to protect them. South Gloucestershire’s Conservatives are not protecting the Public Health budgets, which will have been cut by 35% since 2013. The popular Exercise on Prescription scheme is just the latest sorry casualty of Tory Government cuts and Tory Council decisions.”

Exercise on Prescription funding scrapped

South Gloucestershire Council’s ruling Conservatives today voted to scrap funding for the Exercise on Prescription scheme – a move that Labour says shows the effect of austerity cuts.

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