The leader of the opposition in the Moorlands took a jab at the council’s Conservative and Independent coalition this week, accusing them of “overemphasising party politics” as Labour councillors got none of the top jobs in a shake-up.
Coun Mike Gledhill, the leader of the Labour group, said at the district council’s annual meeting that it was “a pity” the individual abilities of councillors were not taken into account, following a number of votes to select chairs and vice-chairs of committees for the coming year.
At the meeting last Wednesday, the Labour group put forward four candidates for vice-chair positions on the council’s overview and scrutiny panels, but the incumbent Conservatives and Independents held onto their roles.
Conservative Coun Sybil Ralphs, the leader of the council, said this reflected the authority’s best “skillsets and capabilities”.
The overview and scrutiny panels perform an important function at the council: they review, and criticise where necessary, decisions made by Cabinet to ensure that the council is doing its job properly. At the Moorlands, the panels are headed up by Conservative or Independent members, although it is thought by some that they are most effective when led by the Opposition.
At the end of the meeting last week, Coun Gledhill said: “I think we have got some lessons to learn from tonight. When you look at the way the votes have gone, broadly speaking they have followed party lines.
“We will, in the future, have to look at whether this is the best way of deciding committee posts and scrutiny panels, because the current approach overemphasises party politics and does not take into account the abilities we have across the council.
“I think that is a pity and maybe one day we will be able to rectify that.”
Coun Ralphs hit back: “When the Independent and Conservative group took over this administration 14 years ago, we followed on from what had gone before.
“The Labour party had always appointed their own members as chairs and vice-chairs of scrutiny panels, but suddenly, when they were no longer in power, there was a different mindset.
“When you are selecting chairs and vice-chairs of scrutiny panels, the emphasis should always be on selecting based on skillsets and capability. We have decided that the people we have put forward have those skillsets and that capability. It has worked well for 14 years; long may that continue.”
Labour Coun Kevin Jackson, representing Biddulph East, was quick to dispute this, saying: “Coun Ralphs, and not for the first time, has said that when Labour was in charge of the administration, we appointed all our chairs and vice-chairs.
“I respectfully point out to the leader that it was a completely different system. It was not Cabinet, it was a committee system. Coun Ralphs is trying to compare chalk and cheese.”
Coun Ralphs could be heard in the background, repeating: “Wrong, wrong, wrong.”
The annual meeting saw Conservative Coun Paul Roberts take over as chair from Keith Flunder, another Conservative who had been in the role for the last two years.
Meanwhile, Independent Coun Andrew Hart, representing Biddulph North, stepped down as chair of the Resources Overview and Scrutiny Panel to take on a new Cabinet job.