Call for more scrutiny roles for opposition on Northamptonshire County Council

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More scrutiny clout is being called for at Northamptonshire County Council after the ruling Conservative administration voted that three quarters of scrutiny chair positions will be held by its own party.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Dennis Meredith says he is taking the matter to the newly appointed commissioners after the county authority voted to give three of the four scrutiny chair roles to Conservative county councillors.

The move comes after the authority was heavily criticised in a best value report in March by Max Caller who found that councillors who asked difficult questions were sometimes removed from scrutiny panels.

Cllr Meredith, who represents the Talavera ward in Northampton, told council leader Matt Golby during Wednesday’s meeting: “Scrutiny is very important and if this administration is going to be open then this has to change. I hope that you renege your decision and you will come to ask for our help as we will give it.”

Labour councillor John McGhee echoed Cllr Meredith’s complaint. He told Cllr Golby: “You could have taken the Caller report on board, but you failed. If this is a new start, then you have failed. Take the bull by the horns and change the way scrutiny is done.”

The council has four scrutiny committees which challenge and audit decisions made by other councillors sitting on other committees.

In the best value report, which is being used by many as a reference point for the failings of NCC, Mr Caller said: “The inspection team was struck by the number of councillors who told us that they had been refused information when they sought to ask questions.

“Members told us that they had been informed that ‘you can only ask that at scrutiny meetings and not outside a meeting’ that ‘I need to get permission from the cabinet member to discuss this with you’ or just not getting a response.

“Councillors told us that they felt if they asked difficult questions at audit committee or scrutiny meetings they would be replaced and there was some evidence to support this.”

At the full council meeting the Conservative administration was also criticised by Alison Richards who is heading up the campaign for the 21 threatened libraries. Mrs Richards said it had been a “completely negative year” and that this year could be even worse.

NCC wants to stop running the learning facilities and may start to sell off some of the buildings.