HEREFORDSHIRE councillors are to get another go at ending the authority’s cabinet system.

Support for a groundbreaking notice of motion put by two political group leaders to full council next week could be the beginning of that end.

And this time the debate will be had. A previous attempt to put such a motion before the last full council was put off.

Submitted by Lib-Dem group leader Cllr Terry James and seconded by Independent leader Cllr Bob Matthews, the full wording of the motion is:

“We ask that this Council take note of the public disillusionment with the current arrangements of Herefordshire Council. Their arrangements failing to include the majority of elected Councillors in the decision making process and the highly secretive manner in which the Council operates.

We instruct the officers to produce a report on the alternative governance arrangement to include a streamlined committee system. We also ask for the setting up of an all party working group to oversee this alternative  arrangement.”

A debate on the future for cabinet had been proposed by Cllr James for full council in September.

But then there were already three notices of motion on the agenda, all the council’s constitution allows.

Behind the scenes, councillors came to believe that it was too soon to debate the future of cabinet without workable alternatives that could be put to voters.

Cllr James, who headed the council’s first cabinet in 1999, told the Hereford Times of his  “frustration”  that a motion of such importance was not seen as a priority by the council.

He made his case for a motion on a claim that successive cabinets had come to forget their purpose to appear as doing little more than delegating decisions to officers.

A combined opposition vote at Hereford Shirehall next Friday would defeat any Tory attempt to defend cabinet. The Tory group currently controls the council – through cabinet – as a minority.

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.

Abolishing cabinet would require 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.