THE PRESENT SYSTEM
Canterbury has what is called a ‘Strong Leader and Executive’ system. This was adopted in 2002 after the government of the day made all councils choose between this and having an elected Mayor. The Councillors elect the Leader, who then chooses the Executive members, and can throw them off the Executive if they don’t say the right things or vote the right way. Key decisions are made by this small group, and often in practice by just the one person.
IS IT WORKING WELL?
Having decisions made by a small group, or even by one person, is supposed to make for speed and decisiveness. In practice it produces the opposite. Decisions made without sufficient thought, without proper consultation and without proper debate, arouse resentment from local people. Instead of swift action we then get a long drawn-out battle which could have been avoided. We’ve seen this on issues such as the Westgate Towers traffic scheme and Kingsmead Field in Canterbury.
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
The present government, in the Localism Act 2011, gave councils the option of changing back to the earlier Committee System. With this system, the Council forms a number of committees each dealing with a particular area of issues. All councillors serve on one or more committees, and the committees make recommendations to the full Council for it to approve.
WOULD IT BE BETTER?
No system is perfect. In any system, the largest party is able to have the final say. But a return to the committee system would have these advantages:
- Decisions would be more thoroughly debated – all the parties would be represented on committees
- Decisions would be informed by a greater range of knowledge and experience
- All councillors would have an input into the decisions
- Councillors would all build up their own expertise by serving on committees. At present the time and effort of those who are not on the Executive is wasted.
- There would be greater transparency – key information and the real reasons for decisions could no longer be the preserve of a small group or a single person.
HOW COULD WE CHANGE?
If we got enough signatures on a petition, the Council would be required by law to hold a referendum in which local people could vote to change to the Committee system. The number of signatures needed would be 5% of the electorate – at present that’s 5,611. If that target were reached by the end of 2014, it would automatically trigger a referendum in May 2015.