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Muriel Matters House, where the HBC Cabinet meets in normal times.

Tories purged from Cabinet at behest of council leader

HBC council leader Kim Forward has made her mark by removing Tory representation on the Cabinet, in an unexpected move that has drawn criticism not just from the Tories but from Liberal Democrats and elsewhere. Nick Terdre reports.

The news has not been announced by the council but was broken by Cllr Rob Lee, leader of the Conservative group, who reported that, along with fellow Tory councillor Andy Patmore, he had been removed from the Hastings Borough Council Cabinet on the orders of council leader Kim Forward. The Cabinet, the council’s main executive forum, now consists solely of Labour councillors.

When asked for an explanation of this move, the council communications team merely issued a list of new Cabinet members and responsibilities following a reshuffle of Labour members, and said that Cllr Forward had no further comments.

The order came only hours before the meeting of the Cabinet, Cllr Lee said on Monday. The meeting, which was to be live-streamed, had to be aborted due to malfunctioning of the video system and will be rescheduled. But in the opening minutes Cllr Forward, who was chairing it, made no reference to the sudden change in the Cabinet’s make-up.

Cllr Lee said he was also unable to furnish a reason for Forward’s decision. “It is a great shame that the Leader of the Council has made this decision to deny a voice to Conservative voters all over the town,” he said.

No reason given

”No real reason has given for the move and it will stifle debate locally. This is proof that Cllr Forward is not interested in hearing alternative points of view.

“Previous Labour leaders have seen the importance of consulting with opposition parties instead of listening only to voices that agree with them. Over the last few years the Conservatives have been proved right on many issues locally, including the recently aborted plans to build solar panels which was very embarrassing to the Labour leadership.

“The fear of effective Conservative opposition has proved too much for Cllr Forward who does not dare to face challenging questions from outside the Labour Party.

“Over the last few years this Council have made a string of poor decisions from closing down the town centre toilets and failed solar schemes to huge borrowing to fund the unwise purchasing of commercial property. The Conservatives have been against these failed schemes and it seems that Labour no longer want to hear the dissenting voices of reason.”

Local Liberal Democrats also criticised the decision. “We see this as not just an issue for any individual political party but a wider question of representation of all those affected by Council decisions,” Susan Stoodley, an executive committee member of Hastings & Rye Lib Dems, told HOT.

“For local Lib Dems it is also a broader issue than just representation in the cabinet.

“This seems to be another example of the local Labour Party’s reluctance to have any form of open government in Hastings.”

Ignoring input

“There are several examples of projects where they have ignored input from other parties, including the question over whether to install solar panels in the Country Park, the former bathing pool site and building on the Bulverhythe recreation ground.

“We strongly believe that the actions of the borough council would be greatly improved by involving a broader range of interests in decision making that can impact on every resident of Hastings.

“We believe conditions in the borough would benefit broadly as a result of a more open, cooperative form of governance. We think it would be better if the Council operates through a committee rather than Cabinet system.”

Meanwhile Julia Hilton, secretary of the local Greens, told HOT: “We feel that the Cabinet should contain councillors with the necessary experience and knowledge to be effective in their own portfolio area. This may or may not include councillors from opposition parties.

“It should be noted, however, in regard to the two Conservative members being ousted from Cabinet, that when the Conservatives were in control of Hastings Borough Council from 2006-7, the Cabinet was made up entirely of Conservatives. I do agree that they should have the right to be able to attend and present differing points of view at cabinet.

“I also hope that this isn’t a sign of Labour ‘battening down the hatches’ and deciding only to hold conversations within the Labour bunker.”

The nearest to an explanation which HOT has seen came from Cllr Andy Batsford, himself a Cabinet member, who wrote on Facebook “I think it’s the right decision. They have been totally ineffective as cabinet members. They are paid a good additional sum of money but provided nothing of worth. Poor value for money for our town.”

In fact it was Cllr Patmore’s reminder of Natural England’s reservations about the damaging effects of solar arrays on wildlife that led then council leader Peter Chowney, when moving a proposal to approve expenditure on feasibility studies for the Country Park solar farm project, to add an amendment making the project conditional on a favourable assessment by NE. When this did not come, the project was scrapped.

Hypocritical

Meanwhile former Tory councillor Robert Cooke also took to Facebook to say: “Very hypocritical – when the Conservatives did this to Labour they likened the administration to Zimbabwe. I guess communist China would be the nearest comparison for Labour.”

Other Facebook posters criticised the move. One said, “Cabinet should be inclusive of all political persuasions,” and another, “What are Labour afraid of? Can’t take the criticism or scrutiny, what are they trying to hide??”

In fact constitutionally there is no requirement for political balance in the make-up of the Cabinet, as noted in the HBC constitution: “The Local Government Act 2000 provides that the political balance rules do not necessarily apply to a Cabinet or Committees of a Cabinet.”

There are single-party Cabinets elsewhere in East Sussex. The East Sussex County Council Cabinet consists of eight Tories, Eastbourne’s of seven Lib Dems and Wealden’s of five Tories. Mixed Cabinets can be found in Rother (Association of Independents five, Lib Dems three and Labour one) and Lewes (Green Party four, Lib Dems three, Labour one and one independent).

Cabinet reshuffle

The Cabinet now comprises eight members. In addition to removing the two Tory councillors, Cllr Forward has also replaced Cllr Sue Beaney as chair of the charity commission with Cllr Margi O’Callaghan. Cllr Paul Barnett has also been appointed to the Cabinet, with the Urban Environment and Community Safety portfolio.

Some portfolios have also been reallocated. The remaining members and their responsibilities are as follows: Cllr Forward (Strategy and Partnership Working), Cllr Colin Fitzgerald (deputy leader, Regeneration, Culture and Tourism), Cllr Peter Chowney (Financial Management and Estates), Cllr Judy Rogers (Equalities, Organisational Well-Being & Performance), Cllr Maya Evans (Natural Environment and Leisure) and Cllr Batsford (Housing and Homelessness).

 

This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 10 and 11 June 2020.

Posted 11:54 Wednesday, Jun 10, 2020 In: Local Government

8 Comments

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  1. Mari Dalton

    This is not right to just ignore any views but Labours in a town council..Is this because the Solar panels were stopped maybe?

    Comment by Mari Dalton — Friday, Jun 12, 2020 @ 13:20

  2. Michael Madden

    I would like to ask Kev Towner to please write exactly why he thinks the claims made in this article are “groundless”.

    Because, if they’re not, then they are very worrying, and repeat a noticeable trend that seemed to begin in the Labour Party under Corbyn’s (failed) leadership. Surely, if a political party made up of MPs, or a local council made up of councillors, is this intolerant of other opinions, they do not belong in a democracy. Of course they may privately say that Britain is no longer a democracy anyway, and I would agree, but this kind of tribalism will hardly help to remedy that.

    After all, you can’t have it both ways – you can’t profess to be democratic and then deny it in your actions. Time has proven that corruption and abuse of power follow once any political party’s representative in any group (including a council) becomes too dominant.

    Speaking as a lifelong Labour voter I’ve found this undemocratic tendency in Labour very worrying lately. It seems to me that this is why many natural Labour voters have no faith either in this Tory government, or in this Labour-dominated council.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Thursday, Jun 11, 2020 @ 13:14

  3. Mike Howard

    As an ex-Hastings Cllr including Vice-Chair of the Scrutiny Committee and a local government professional for over 30 years I can confirm that most councils apart from no-overall control or coalitions) do not have opposition Cllrs on Cabinet. That includes the 4 years of Conservative majority here a few years ago when the Conservatives would not allow Labour Cabinet members, despite the much narrower gap in numbers between the two groups than now.
    Hastings like other councils also has a Scrutiny Committee which examines the work of the Council and other things affecting the lives of our residents and an Audit Committee which scrutinises financial management by the Council. In addition of course scrutiny of decisions also takes place at Full Council where any Cllr can comment and vote at the time of discussing and taking decisions.
    The political balance/numbers on the non-Cabinet committees is calculated neutrally by Council Officers based on the numbers of each political group at any given time. All these decisions are within the Council’s Constitution which in turn has to be in line with the Local Government and other Acts of Parliament.

    Comment by Mike Howard — Thursday, Jun 11, 2020 @ 12:46

  4. Dave Young

    Kev – If the council won’t provide a context (and don’t respond to HoT when offered the opportunity) it’s hard to report it…

    Comment by Dave Young — Thursday, Jun 11, 2020 @ 12:40

  5. Bolshie

    Actually Mr Towner, there are many of us reading this article who think otherwise on the your claim this article is “groundless” and “without context.” Particularly as you have not take the time to explain why.
    This article is an insight to how this local Labour party/Councillors now have
    a totalitarian regime. Rule One: Never question or criticise the Labour Councillors. Just think if there was a Gulag in the borough, it would be pretty full.
    So much for democracy and transparency !!! Out the window isn’t it.

    I would have thought there are Local Government protocols somewhere in the so called rules that would prohibit this.
    Perhaps this is payback for the Tories for retaining their seat in the last elections and Peter Chowney losing

    Comment by Bolshie — Thursday, Jun 11, 2020 @ 12:26

  6. Keith Piggott

    “Tory seats matter too”

    Comment by Keith Piggott — Wednesday, Jun 10, 2020 @ 23:29

  7. Chris Lewcock

    The change also seems to have resulted in the loss of the previous clear focus on climate change.

    Comment by Chris Lewcock — Wednesday, Jun 10, 2020 @ 16:18

  8. Kev Towner

    Frankly I’m disappointed that HOT have seen fit to publish this article. The claims made are groundless and have been reported without context.

    Comment by Kev Towner — Wednesday, Jun 10, 2020 @ 16:14

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