BARELY a week old and already the scheme of administration created to oversee the running of Scottish Borders Council is being attacked as not fit for purpose.
The criticism came from Conservatives who formed the opposition group on the local authority after May’s elections, and who claim the new scheme will not improve democracy.
Conservative group leader Michelle Ballantyne was commenting after last week’s meeting of the full council agreed to abandon the former scrutiny model of oversight.
Meeting last Thursday, the local authority approved a scheme of administration which creates an executive with three members of the opposition included for the first time since 2001.
Alongside this, the council will establish three new committees to oversee social work and housing, education, and environment and infrastructure.
These committees will have nine elected members, including three members from the opposition.
The council also agreed to establish five new area forums – see details below. As well as councillors, the forums will have elected members from each community council in their area.
The council says the raft of changes are designed to increase elected member input and ensure that all elected members – from the administration and the opposition – have a say in the council’s decision-making.
The scheme means that the scrutiny panel will be disbanded as its functions will now be carried out by the new committees and other existing committees.
SBC leader David Parker says it had already been made clear in the partnership agreement, drawn up as part of the ruling coalition’s founding after local government elections in May, that increasing the democratic accountability of councillors would be at the heart of any administration programme.
“The proposals that we have agreed today will capture the best bits of the executive/scrutiny system, but will also allow full elected member involvement in all of our decisions, before decisions are made,” he said.
“It is the most significant political change in the council since 2001 and all elected members will now have an opportunity to influence everything that we do, before decisions are made.
“I also believe that the new area forums, which will have the powers of the former area committees, but a wider membership and a more developed community role, will be a significant improvement to the way in which the council works with our communities.”
Councillor Catriona Bhatia – newly appointed to join John Mitchell (SNP) as a second depute leader – agreed: “Although the executive/scrutiny model had merits, it was clear to everyone that scrutiny was not effective enough and this has been something that other councils across the UK have recognised.
“The comprehensive new scheme of administration that has been approved will not only enhance the democracy of the council but will also support our communities better, and I was particularly pleased that the council has, in principle, agreed to the establishment of a petitions’ committee which was a proposal from our recent manifesto.”
However, the Conservatives unanimously opposed the scheme of administration saying it had “significant flaws” and would not provide a more accountable or democratic system.
Councillor Ballantyne added: “We do, however, recognise that there is a need for an improved administration and will do our best to work within the new system to deliver the quality of representation and scrutiny that the public have every right to expect.”