Today was a day of change at Cambridgeshire County Council. The old Conservative Leader Nick Clarke was formally voted out of office, finishing off the job done in the elections on 2nd May. A new Tory Leader, Martin Curtis, was elected – but only on the second round of voting, and only as Leader of a minority administration with 34 Tory councillors.
The other important thing that happened today was a change in the way the Council makes decisions.
For years, the Cambridgeshire Conservatives have run the Council on a Leader & Cabinet model, reserving all the key decisions for the Cabinet, and giving little involvement to backbenchers, or to councillors from other parties.
Today, my colleagues Cllrs Kilian Bourke and Maurice Leeke moved a motion for the Council to move to a committee system, which will present decisions to all councillors on committees with numbers mirroring the make-up of the Council. The Tories, not surprisingly, resisted the change, but the other parties (Lib Dems, Labour, UKIP and four Independents) voted for change: 37 votes for, 31 against (1 abstention). For legal reasons, this can only take place at an Annual Meeting, so we shall have to continue with the cabinet system for another year. After that, ie from May 2014, the Council will make the change.
A series of amendments to the constitution were proposed, and some progress made: for example, the scrutiny committees that track the Cabinet will be chaired not by the ruling Conservatives, but by councillors from other parties.
Another amendment will mean that transport decisions, such as parking, traffic calming and crossings, will be taken by people who live in the area concerned, rather than by one councillor at Shire Hall. The Council will offer districts their own area committees, constituted from local councillors.
I spoke on this, urging the Council to let local people take local decisions about transport where they live. We have seen in Queen Edith’s how the centralisation of decision-making has led to interminable delays, for example in resolving parking restrictions. We look forward to a forum in which not only councillors, but the travelling public, can contribute their ideas and local knowledge.
For another take on the day’s proceedings, see here.