CABINET members behind a decision to sell off the county’s entire smallholdings estate have been accused of ‘trashing local democracy’.

Green party councillors Jenny Bartlett and Felicity Norman say Herefordshire Council’s cabinet is guilty of withholding large parts of a key report, disregarding the views of the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee and preventing the full council from voting on the issue.

The cabinet, comprising of seven councillors, agreed to sell all of Herefordshire’s county farms at a meeting last Thursday. Only group leaders from opposition parties and the leader of the overview and scrutiny committee were permitted to speak.

Councillor Bartlett, a member of the scrutiny task and finish group which reviewed the sell-off plan before recommending only a partial sale was undertaken, said: “We looked to the future and voted to hold on to the family silver – keep the smallholdings in council ownership for the benefit of young people seeking small farm tenancies.

“It’s appalling that the council’s Tory cabinet has now flouted the scrutiny process and made a mockery of local democracy. The cabinet didn’t even consider the scrutiny committee’s main recommendation to rationalise and keep the farms estate.”

She said the council leadership kept the issue ‘shrouded in secrecy’ by failing to make public the full report on the estate compiled by Fisher German consultants – even though it was promised to concerned bodies like the Tenant Farmers Association and the NFU.

Councillor Felicity Norman added that by withholding information, the cabinet made it look as if they had ‘something to hide’.

“In then preventing the full council from debating and deciding the issue the cabinet is trashing the democratic process,” she said.

Meanwhile, Councillor Jim Kenyon, has called for an overhaul of the local government system. He said that an elected mayor should be the leader of the council and that a hybrid system would ensure all key decisions are made by full council.

Cllr Kenyon said: "I'm frustrated by the whole process of the cabinet. The system is wrong. A lot of people voted for me, more than any other councillor on the county council, and I don't get a say on it.

“I didn't vote for the leader of the council or the cabinet and they are making decisions against scrutiny. Is that process right and is it time that we had an elected mayor? An elected mayor is elected by people and is accountable to the people and it would be more democratic than the system we have at the moment.”

However, Councillor Patricia Morgan, deputy leader of the council, said the decision not to go put the decision before full council was made in line with the current council's constitution.

“The opposition accepted that we weren't doing anything wrong," she said.

"The general, overview and scrutiny committee had a task and finish group which looked at the smallholdings and that was a thorough process that everybody was happy with and each member of the council knew that was happening and had the ability to feed in their comments to that process so actually all members did have an opportunity [to have their say]."