Councillors criticise 'undemocratic' West Northamptonshire Council proposed cabinet reshuffle by Conservatives

‘For me, it's really undemocratic, it's like marking your own homework’ says Labour

By Logan MacLeod
Friday, 13th May 2022, 2:42 pm

Councillors have criticised West Northamptonshire Council's (WNC) cabinet proposed reshuffle as “undemocratic”.

WNC has set out its leadership team for the forthcoming year, ahead of its annual meeting next week on Thursday, May 19.

At the meeting, the council will receive notification of cabinet posts for 2022/23, as well as agreeing all other committee memberships.

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Danielle Stone (left) and Ian McCord (right)

The new cabinet will see Councillor Jonathan Nunn continue as leader of the council and cabinet member for strategy, with Councillor Adam Brown as deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, culture and leisure.

Councillor Dan Lister is set to take on the role of cabinet member for economic development, town centre regeneration and growth, taking on the reins from councillor Lizzy Bowen, who has stepped down for family reasons, a WNC spokesman said.

Commenting on the arrangement changes, Leader of the Council Jonathan Nunn, said: “I would like to thank Lizzy Bowen for the immense energy, drive and enthusiasm she has given to the economic and regeneration portfolio in our first year as a new council. She has played an instrumental role in the excellent progress we have been making in our plans towards improving and revitalising Northampton town centre and driving investment into our other towns and wider West Northants."

Councillor Lizzy Bowen said: “It has been a pleasure over the last year to work on these projects and see our plans take shape, but I’m stepping back to focus more on family and my personal life.”

Controversy

Independent Deanshanger councillor Ian McCord has been nominated to chair the corporate scrutiny committee, taking the place of Labour councillor Danielle Stone.

Councillor McCord, a former Conservative councillor, was suspended by the South Northamptonshire Conservative Association (SNCA) last year just hours before a leadership contest for WNC following its first elections in May 2021.

Councillor McCord was accused of bullying by the SNCA but, one year later, he was exonerated following an appeal.

Reacting to the news of being nominated, Councillor McCord said: “The choices at cabinet are entirely up to Jonathan (Nunn).

"As an Independent, to my mind, there is still a lot of work to be done in sorting out the Conservative Group before I would be able to consider going back to them.

"Until the Conservative Group sorts themselves out, I'm not ready to go back and sit on it (cabinet)."

Opposition reaction

The Labour Group has criticised the move to nominate Councillor McCord to take over as scrutiny committee chair.

A Labour Group spokesman said: "Scrutiny panels in local government have the ability to closely monitor proposals put forward by an administration, analyse different departments performances and review decision making as well as providing policy advice to cabinet.

"The proposal means that five of the six leaders and deputies of the committees tasked with scrutinising the work of the Conservative administration, will be members from the Conservative Party, with its former leader, Councillor McCord, taking up the final place."

If he was to become the scrutiny committee chair, Councillor McCord would be entitled to an additional £13,750 on top of his basic allowance, according to the Labour Group.

Labour councillor Danielle Stone has called the proposed move “undemocratic”.

She said: "For me, it's really undemocratic, it's like marking your own homework. I think every scrutiny panel should have an opposition chair. I think that's just fundamental, basic good practice.

"I think the Conservative administration is looking to appease Ian McCord.

"I will continue to introduce progressive ideas to the committee and hold this cabinet to account.”

Councillor Stone added that she is “extremely disappointed” about the gender imbalance on the cabinet, which comprises two women in a group of seven.

Responding to Labour's criticisms, Councillor McCord said: "I sit as an independent, during the past 12 months, for example on the topic of green bins or the local plan, I have shown that I can and will hold the administration to account. If anyone thinks I am patsy for anyone they are sadly mistaken.

"It is good governance that this scrutiny of the budget is chaired by someone outside of the administration.

"Labour held it last year. The next year will be me as an Independent.”

Leader of the West Northamptonshire Labour Group, Councillor Wendy Randall said: “The decision really leaves a really bad taste in the mouth.

"The work these groups carry out is incredibly important to the integrity and effectiveness of our council and how it makes decisions.

"We have been told repeatedly this year that the new unitary would have a collaborative, cross-party way of doing things in order to avoid the mistakes of the past.

"This decision seems to suggest that the internal politics of the Tory group is more important than the integrity of our democratic processes and will change the way in which opposition councillors can scrutinise the work of the administration.”

Proposed cabinet reshuffle list

Other proposed cabinet appointments for the year ahead are as follows:

Councillor Malcolm Longley – Cabinet Member for Finance

Councillor Phil Larratt – Cabinet Member for Environment, Transport, Highways and Waste

Councillor David Smith – Cabinet Member for Community Safety & Engagement, and Regulatory Services

Councillor Rebecca Breese – Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, Built Environment & Rural Affairs

Councillor Matt Golby – Cabinet Member for Adult Care, Wellbeing, and Health Integration

Councillor Mike Hallam – Cabinet Member for HR & Corporate Services

Councillor Fiona Baker – Cabinet Member for Children, Families & Education

At next week’s meeting members will also consider committee memberships for 2022/23, with the following chairs proposed:

Councillor Rebecca Breese – Chair, Planning Policy Committee

Councillor Andrew Kilbride – Chair, Alcohol and Gambling Licensing Committee & Taxi and General Licensing Committee

Councillor Phil Bignell – Chair, Strategic Planning Committee

Councillor Ian McCord – Chair, Corporate Scrutiny Committee

Councillor Rosie Herring – Chair, People Scrutiny Committee

Councillor Dermot Bambridge – Chair, Place Scrutiny Committee

Councillor Jonathan Nunn – Chair, Senior Appointments Committee

Councillor Cecile Irving-Swift – Chair, Audit and Governance Committee

Councillor Suresh Patel – Chair, Democracy and Standards Committee

Councillor Kevin Parker – Chair, Daventry Area Planning Committee

Councillor Jamie Lane – Chair, Northampton Area Planning Committee

Councillor Stephen Clarke – Chair, South Northants Area Planning Committee

Councillor Malcolm Longley – Chair, Pensions Committee & Investment Sub Committee