West Sussex County councillor slams local Tories

County councillor Dr James Walsh
County councillor Dr James Walsh

THE Liberal Democrat leader on the county council has slammed the Tories for taking all the top positions on council scrutiny committees.

“It is this sort of nonsense which gives local government such a bad name, and further stokes the image of the Tories being out of touch with the electorate,” said Dr James Walsh.

He said the Conservatives have ignored West Sussex County Council’s written constitution in ‘grabbing’ all the chairman and vice-chairman positions on the four scrutiny committees.

The function of the committees is to probe decisions made by the eight Conservative cabinet members.

“The position is quite clear,” said Dr Walsh.

“The council’s constitution specifies three conditions for the chairman and vice-chairman of each committee. Firstly that they should be appointed on their merits; should normally be from different political parties; and there should be discussion between the group leaders prior to the selection. All three provisions were breached.

“My discussion with the Conservative leader consisted of me being told that they would be taking all the positions, and ignore the ‘different’ parties rule.

“Last year they took away the only opposition scrutiny chairmanship, and in protest we refused to accept any vice-chairs. We, together with UKIP and Labour, were not asking for any chairmen this time, although that would be sensible, but only for one vice-chairmanship.

“It means that the Conservative cabinet makes all the decisions, and every committee that scrutinises those decisions will have a Tory chairman and vice-chairman, as well as a majority on every committee.

“This makes them judge and jury across the whole range of council activities.”

Speaking at a county council meeting in May, leader Louise Goldsmith, said: “I did not hear at the end of full council in February anyone objecting to this. When we go into scrutiny it is the challenge we welcome, not the political challenge. It is the opinion and the questions you bring to the committees and not who is the vice-chairman which is important.”