The Labour / Tory coalition that governs in Falkirk unveiled their latest plans to phase out democratic scrutiny within the council chambers at the most recent meeting of the full council.
Previously the ruling coalition has forced through a new structure that consisted of an all powerful Executive Committee made up of 9 members of the Administration and only 3 opposition members.
This body, branded the Polit Bureau by opposition members, has been given absolute decision making powers over around 90% of the political decision making process.
A second Scrutiny Committee is to be established to oversee the actions of the Polit Bureau but this committee has not only been stripped of any power what so ever but also left under the control of the ruling coalition who will have a 6 -4 majority.
Opposition Councillors this week learned that they will no longer be able to take motions regarding council services to full council meetings, instead most motions will be referred to the Polit Bureau where the token opposition members will be required to put their colleague’s case for them even though it may be a local ward issue.
Opposition Councillors also got first sight of the new rules (Standing Orders) that will be brought in with the new structure that, once again, attack the ability to hold to account the Administration.
· Cutting the time speakers have from 10 minutes to 6 for movers of motions and from 5 minutes to 3 for all other speakers.
· Cutting full council meetings to a maximum of 3 hours.
· Banning direct negative amendments.
· Insisting on previously submitted written amendments from the opposition while permitting amendments from the floor from the Administration.
· A cut in the number of supplementary questions that can be asked to a written answer from 2 to 1.
· Opposition being forced to submit their alternative budget proposals in a timescale that allows only 2 days to prepare an alternative budget.
· A ceiling of only 1 hour every second month to question the nine portfolio holders, less than 7 minutes each.
· The removal of the automatic right of reply if a councillor is misquoted or abused.
Indeed in one of the first Standing Orders outlining the individual parties contributing to the first statutory meeting after the election the exhaustive list ranges from the definition of The Administration, positions such as Provost and Deputy, Leader and Deputy, Convenors and Deputies as well as a list of officers from the Chief Executive downwards but no mention or recognition of the opposition.
Speaking in support of an SNP motion to have the council’s Standing Orders drafted by an external body to ensure fairness after Falkirk Council Chief Executive, Mary Pitcaithly, admitted following political direction in her efforts to bring forward chances.
Cllr Coleman said,
“What is clear is that we can not have Standing Orders re-written in Falkirk that are not open to political interference and manipulation for narrow partisan gain.
The current proposals are not only badly worded and full of contradictions but signal the death of democracy within Falkirk Council.
That is why we require a professional but politically neutral body such as the national chief officer’s body, SOLACE, to protect the integrity of the democratic process locally.
The alternative is that Falkirk Council becomes synonymous with the worst excesses of political gerrymandering gaining a reputation for sharp practice and political abuse associated with Labour fiefdoms in the West of Scotland”
The SNP motion to call in SOLACE for advice was defeated by 17 votes to 14.