That Bath & NE Council has chosen to stick with the Cabinet system of governance, an unwelcome legacy of the Blair years, is not disappointing because there was little reason to hope that the Lib Dems would be sufficiently radical to restore the previous – and long-established – structure that empowered ward councillors accountable in decision-making and rendered them accountable.
Bath Council chooses to give the impression that it cannot by law restore committee governance. Its How does the Cabinet work? information sheet (dated October 31, 2019) states: ‘Legislation introduced in 2002 required the Council to institute “Executive” (Cabinet) decision-making.’
That was the case in 2002, but it is not now. The 2011 Localism Act permitted local councils in England to restore the committee system if they wanted to do so. It’s clear that, like the Conservatives in Bath, the Lib Dems want to keep decision-making to a 10-person Politburo, leaving local ward councillors – the Backbenchers – to get a look-in when they can or whenever they’re interested enough.
Significantly, that How does the Cabinet work? information sheet makes no attempt to explain the relationship between the Cabinet and Backbench ward councillors in decision-making. It gets one desultory reference, in Paragraph 6:
‘How is consultation ensured? In the case of Cabinet decisions, other councillors and the public may make representations or ask a question at the meeting to influence the Cabinet before they consider the issue.’ So in the Cabinet system, that’s what ward representatives have become: ‘Other’ councillors.
Can we look to the council to, at the very least, to correct the grossly false impression it attempts to convey in its ‘information’ paper? Bath & North East Somerset Council is no longer required by law to have Cabinet governance.