South Gloucestershire Council cabinet may be scrapped

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The ruling Conservative cabinet at South Gloucestershire Council could be disbanded meaning the authority would be ruled by committees.

The council currently appoints a leader whose cabinet members are then given portfolios such as planning and health.

But a vote later could see this system scrapped in favour of decisions being made by all-party committees.

The ruling Conservative party is against the plan, which is backed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Conservative members - who total 34 at the authority - say the public has not been consulted on the scheme.

"A disaster in the making" was how one senior Conservative described it. He and his cabinet colleagues may lose their positions (and their pay); they're so angry they could just walk away from power, leaving Labour and the Lib Dems to grasp the nettle.

Rule by cabinets is pretty modern: councils were pushed towards it by the last government, which regarded the committee system as slow and ineffective.

If South Gloucestershire makes the change, it may be the first in the land to use a clause in the new Localism Act allowing councils to switch back.

Others may follow, for the cabinet model leaves large numbers of councillors feeling frustrated on the backbenches.

And it would mark not just the end of a system; it might also be the end of South Gloucestershire Council's longstanding spirit of consensus and co-operation.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have 36 members in total and could force the change through.

The possibility of changing from a cabinet system back to committees was introduced as part of the Localism Act 2011.

'Don't fix it'

Conservative councillor John Goddard, cabinet member for corporate affairs, said he was against the change.

"Obviously I'm not that pleased about it. My personal view is if it ain't broke, then don't fix it," he said.

"Sixty-nine per cent of residents are satisfied with the council whereas only 8% are not, so we do need a consultation with residents over how we can further improve on satisfaction levels.

"The committee system should feature as part of that consultation alongside other governance arrangements."

Labour councillor Ian Scott said the move would allow greater scrutiny of decisions.

"We believe the old committee structure is more democratic and more transparent," he said.

"At the moment the current system allows decision making to be done behind closed doors - the committee system will allow the public to see decisions made by the councillors they have elected."

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