First impressions of a councillor

May 31, 2019

Lesley Whybrow, one of our six newly elected Green Party councillors on Folkestone & Hythe District Council, writes:

The first couple of weeks were extremely busy trying to get to grips with the way the council works including the 374 page constitution. We held talks with the newly elected Labour and Lib Dem councillors in the hope of being able to form an administration with them. Unfortunately the numbers didn’t add up but together we will be a strong and united opposition.

The six Greens on the council form a political group. We were hoping that Jim [Martin] and I could be co-leaders in typical Green fashion but apparently the legislation doesn’t allow that so I am now leader with Jim as the deputy.

So far we have only had one formal induction session but there are a lot of training sessions lined up over the summer and Rebecca [Shoob] and I have just been on a course in London about Local Government accounting.

As leader of the group I have already had meetings with Susan Priest (head of paid services) and Tim Madden (chief finance officer). It is clear that the council faces a number of big challenges including the huge reduction in funding from central Government; the very high housing targets they need to meet; and the high number of people on the housing register.

And of course we have been contacted by a number of local residents for help resolving a surprisingly wide range of issues.

Our first formal council meeting was the annual meeting on 22 May. This is the meeting where the leader, chair and vice-chair are selected as well as the members of the various committees. Unfortunately the two UKIP councillors and the Independent did a deal with David Monk which gave him 16 votes to the 14 opposition votes so he was elected leader and was able to pick his cabinet including one of the UKIP councillors and David Wimble, the Independent. Cabinet make all the day-to-day executive decisions apart from those delegated to the committees, while full council mainly deals with setting the budget and forming policy.

Frustratingly this means that Hythe now has no representation on cabinet despite our Green Hythe councillors having won a far higher number of votes than David Monk. So one of the first things we will be looking at will be trying to change from the cabinet system to a more representative committee system.

We do have two Green councillors on the overview and scrutiny committee; two on planning; one on audit and governance; and one on the personnel committee. The Conservatives don’t have a majority on any committee and don’t have control of audit and governance so that could mean some interesting meetings.