Plea to go back to "old-fashioned" committee system dumped

Harrogate Borough Councillors have dumped a plan to ditch the cabinet system.
Harrogate Borough Councillors have dumped a plan to ditch the cabinet system.

A bid to move back to the "old-fashioned" days where groups of councillors made major decisions instead of single cabinet members has been dumped by Harrogate Borough Councillors.

Councillors debated the merit of reverting back to the committee system, which was used up until it was replaced by the current cabinet mode of operation.

The former system saw a committee of councillors tasked with making key decisions; while under the latter system, a single member holds the portfolio and decision-making power.

It comes after Liberal Democrat Councillors Pat Marsh and Philip Broadbank submitted a notice of motion at the July meeting of council, requesting that the council investigates re-introducing a streamlined committee system to the borough's decision making process.

The pair subsequently met with council leader Richard Cooper to discuss the proposal.

However in his report back to council, Coun Cooper recommending sticking with the current system, writing: "I am not convinced that there is merit in returning to the committee system but have a great deal of sympathy with the view that backbenchers need to be involved more in decision-making.

"I will listen to views of members - particularly backbenchers - at the full council meeting which will inform the way ahead for council."

During debate, Coun Marsh said the current system "only encourages expertise to develop among cabinet members" instead of all councillors.

Her party colleague Coun Broadbank said the committee process could "make the public aware that more of the councillors here are involved in the decision making process".

They found an unlikely ally in Conservative Councillor Nick Brown, who said: "It's not often I agree with the opposition...but I do feel a committee structure is far more democratic, it involves far more backbenchers".

However, the majority of councillors were against a return to the old-fashioned way.

Coun Graham Swift said flippantly that he had "considerable anxiety" when he first read the notice of motion, jokingly posing "Am I doing a terrible job?"

He added that under the current model backbench councillors could be involved as they wanted to be.

Only four current councillors were on the council when the committee system was last used.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter