Accountability and Transparency

Folkestone & Hythe District Council is run on a cabinet system which means that many major decisions are made by a group of 10 Conservative councillors with no input from the opposition. Cabinet decisions can be subject to scrutiny by the Overview & Scrutiny committee but this committee has a Tory chair, a Tory majority and cabinet can and does ignore its recommendations.
Some other councils operate on a committee system where opposition councillors can take a more active part in the running of the council. Shepway Green party believe that such a system should be introduced at FHDC.
We also have serious concerns about the number of decisions that are made behind closed doors at FHDC – including decision about Princes Parade and Otterpool. Often the council will claim commercial confidentiality to justify excluding the public from meetings and for refusing Freedom of Information requests. We can see that on occasions this might be justified but we believe that in most cases the public interest of openness and transparency should outweigh the council’s commercial interests.

County Hall, Maidstone

Kent County Council also operates on a cabinet system. Our Kent County Councillor, Martin Whybrow, sits on the following committees (all with a Conservative majority): Environment & Transport and Governance & Audit, so he is able to hold cabinet to account to some degree. Full council meetings are supposed to be held every two months but there is an increasing tendency for these meetings to be cancelled. Hardly democracy in action!

Here, Martin has a four minute leader’s speech. Any KCC member can ask a question in public during an allotted 45 minute period at the start of full council and can bring a motion to full council. However, there is no ability for members of the public to ask questions at full council (a motion to introduce this, brought by the LibDems and supported by Martin, was defeated).

KCC has a Scrutiny Committee and Martin has brought items to this on a number of occasions (most recently, around KCC’s continued ability to provide safe roads in light of central government budget cuts and the extremely low rate of insurance claim pay-outs to Kent residents). However, this committee is arranged on proportional lines (as are all KCC cabinet committees) and in a recent ruling in relation to the insurance item, the chairman of the committee rejected the ability for expert witnesses to address the committee.
Aside from the councils’ processes and structure, there is also less ability to scrutinies, provide transparency and be an effective opposition, if – as is far too often the case – one party has a large majority (made always more likely by the UK’s broken ‘first past the post’ electoral system). It makes for complacent politics (at national as well as local government levels) and allows the ruling party to do pretty much as it likes – witness the Tory KCC group voting a 15 percent increase in member remuneration soon after the 2017 election.
This is why we need more people to proactively engage with politics, come forward to help, to stand as candidates and create the type of politics and ensure the elected representatives that our area deserves.