HEREFORDSHIRE Council won’t get to debate the end of cabinet as a notice of motion this month unless other motions are withdrawn.
This afternoon (Thurs) the council confirmed that it is standing by its constitution that allows only three notices of motion to be put to full council at a meeting.
In order of submission, the cabinet motion is currently fifth on the list for the full council meeting of September 26 and needs two other motions to make way.
If not, the cabinet motion won’t get heard until a meeting of the full council in December.
The council won’t release the content of the three motions to be debated ahead of the agenda for this month’s meeting being finalised.
A groundbreaking motion to abolish cabinet was proposed Cllr Terry James, Lib-Dem group leader, who headed the council’s first cabinet in 1999.
Cllr James said he was “frustrated” that a motion of such importance was not seen as a priority by the council.
“I’d like to know the content of the other motions ,” he said.
Cllr James made a case for his motion on successive cabinets having come to forget their purpose to appear as doing little more than delegating decisions to officers.
A combined opposition vote would defeat any Tory attempt to defend cabinet. The Tory group currently controls the council – through cabinet – as a minority.
But within the council there are signs that initial support for the abolition of cabinet is weakening since the motion was proposed.
Dissatisfaction with the cabinet system has simmered on the council’s “backbenches” for some years.
Many members believe cabinet stifles their voice and diminishes the role of ward councillor.
Equally long-running are concerns over “closed doors” when key or sensitive decisions are discussed at cabinet.
The success of an abolition motion this month would allow time for the council to prepare alternatives to cabinet ahead of the local election in May.
That will most likely mean a complete re-write of the council’s constitution.
Alternatives to cabinet include a wider ranging committee system and more voting power for the full council.
Legislation allows for the council to re-adopt a committee system of governance with relative ease.
A committee system is still a permitted form of council governance under the Localism Act 2011.
The Act allows for a change in governance arrangements through a full council resolution.
A notice must also be published informing the public that the council intends to change its governance arrangements having passed a resolution to support the change.
Copies of the documents detailing the changes must also be available for inspection.
Once a council has passed a resolution to change its governance arrangements, the Act says those arrangements cannot change again for another five years, unless the second resolution is approved following a referendum.
The concept of a cabinet was one the first executive issues to face Herefordshire Council from its start in 1998.
Then, a government white paper outlined the abolition of traditional committee and sub-committee systems, seen as diffusing responsibility and leaving voters unclear as where decision making powers lay.
The then group leaders were united on the idea of a cabinet that met only behind closed doors – as the white paper allowed.
Arguments in favour of closed doors cited the “openness” offered by mixed party scrutiny committees responsible for specific service areas.
The Hereford Times led calls for cabinet to open its doors, but resistance to the body meeting in public continued to January 2000 ahead of a reform motion being put to full council .
That motion was headed off in the chamber, with the then council leader Cllr James conceding that cabinet proceedings would go public.
The size of cabinet, and the roles available within it, has fluctuated since with opposition leaders allowed a say at each meeting and local members when issues specific to constituencies were discussed.