Talking Politics: A danger the Council will be rudderless

POWER SPLIT  Halifax Town Hall
POWER SPLIT Halifax Town Hall

It’s the beginning of the new Council year this week and the Labour group has taken control of the Council.

Because they’re the largest group and, dependent upon which account you read, it’s either because they want to campaign against the Coalition government (presumably unfettered by us, the Liberal Democrats, who’ve been running the Council with them for the last three years) or they want to be able to take “clear decisions”.

In fact, over the ten years that I’ve been on the Council, no one political party has had a majority of councillors but the Conservatives ran the Council (ie provided the Leader and all the members of the Cabinet where executive decisions are taken) with the active support of Labour (ie they did a deal).

We took over running the Council in 2010 because both ourselves and Labour made gains in the number of Councillors elected for our parties so between us we had a majority, and we wanted to change the style in which the Council was run.

Most importantly we provided a public question time at the beginning of Cabinet meetings and allowed (indeed, encouraged) anybody to speak to us on items being discussed in the meeting before decisions were taken.

There have been no elections for Calderdale Council this year so the number of Councillors hasn’t changed: Labour are the largest party so it is appropriate for the Leader to be from the largest party.

But I still feel strongly that as local people, through elections, have not elected a majority from any one political party, that at least two groups should be working together in the Cabinet to run the Council.

In the elections over the last three years, the share of the votes has been evenly divided between Labour and Conservatives at 32 per cent each with ourselves on 24 per cent (and Others 12 per cent), resulting in 21 Labour Councillors, 17 Conservatives, 11 Liberal Democrats and two independents at present. (a majority is 26, over half of the 51 Councillors).

Clear leadership of the Council can, in the end, only be provided in the end if Council agrees to the decisions that Cabinet are making.

Cabinet’s role is to deliver the policies (and services) of the Council within the budgetary framework of the Council – or to be held to account by Council.

There is a real danger that the Council could become “rudderless”.

This may well not happen because councillors care about what happens in Calderdale but, for the council, its services and officers, to work well and smoothly, it is dependent, in the end, on the relationships between councillors.

By “taking control”, Labour is not getting this new Council year off to a good start.