Democracy about the day-to-day, not just an occasional election. Yet, while in Athens the small number of citizens could participate in every debate, in modern times population size and the complexity of issues force us to rely upon elected representatives to plead our case between elections.
Manifestos can set out the bulk of what candidates want to do if we put our trust in them–a contract with voters which makes any breach a scandal. However, the unpredictability of events means much of what representatives are forced to resolve over their term can’t have been covered by a manifesto and therefore they must their own judgement as to what is in our interests–personal and ethical, with the understanding should their judgement fall short we will penalise them for it at the next election.
So, what does that mean in the case of the council? Well, our intended policy programme is set out in manifestos before each election and when we have a majority that’s what we advance as a cabinet and a council. Cabinet members work with officers to turn commitments into policy reports which are taken through the council, where they are scrutinised by other councillors before a final decision is taken at Full Council, on the basis of which Cabinet Members and officers get to work delivering the policy.
This committee process is there to ensure that every policy is thoroughly scrutinised, to ensure its is in best form by the time a decision is taken, with each party then coming to a collective decision as to which way they will vote on the final policy in advance of Full Council. For this process to work effectively, every member needs to play their role. The role of scrutiny is to enhance, not simply criticise, and the duty of opposition is to set out a potentially better course, not just to contradict. Sadly, if last week’s Full Council meeting is anything to go by, many simply see it as a chance to showboat, even if no one is watching and when the costs keep rising for local taxpayers.