Plan to introduce committee system to end "one-party stranglehold" on Kirklees Council

Labour’s grip on power in Kirklees could fade if politicians opt to introduce a committee system to make key decisions.

Sunday, 23rd May 2021, 8:00 am
Councillors sit socially distanced at the first in-person meeting of Kirklees Council in 2021 where opposition groups voted to start the process to introduce a committee system

That would mean the end of the current leader and cabinet system which, in recent years, has been entirely made up of senior Labour councillors as the party controlled the council.

But a joint party motion to explore a committee system – presented by the Liberal Democrats – has found favour with all opposition groups.

They said increasing the participation of councillors would allow for transparency of decision-making, proper scrutiny and challenge, and more open governance.

Labour, which abstained on the issue when it was raised at the annual general meeting of council on Wednesday (May 19), did not have the relevant votes to defeat it.

The move comes hard on the heels of the local elections, with no party achieving a majority, thus leaving the council under no overall control.

Investigating which model to pursue will take up the next few months, with an option set to be outlined by the autumn – and certainly before the end of the year.

Any formalised arrangement could take a year to finalise. It would be voted on at next year’s council AGM in May 2022.

Adopting a committee system would mean ending a one-party stranglehold on the outcome of major issues including housing, education, highways and investment. Backbenchers would have a much louder voice.

In making the proposal the Lib Dems’ Coun Andrew Marchington (Golcar) said: “A number of councils are taking the opportunity to move back to some form of committee system.

“We and others believe that it is worth exploring a return.

“[This motion] it does not commit us to any one system but what it does commit us to is exploring ways of making better decisions on Kirklees Council to the benefit of our residents.”

His colleague, group leader Coun John Lawson (Cleckheaton) said the joint party motion represented one step in a lengthy journey to rebuild Kirklees post-Covid.

“The recent Sheffield referendum shows the public have an appetite to be more informed and involved, perhaps not in the minutiae of the everyday workings of council, but in the big decisions that affect them in the places they live and work.”

Labour group leader Coun Shabir Pandor (Batley West) said he was “disappointed” at the timing of the motion, which had given his group little time to formulate a response.

However he pledged to be “open-minded” about the notion.

He said: “We are not going to stand in the way. However at this stage we cannot vote for it but we are not going to vote against it. Our office is open.”

The Tories, Greens and the Holme Valley Independents backed the proposal.

The Conservatives’ Coun Martyn Bolt (Mirfield) said detail on the proposal would be “worked up” over the coming months with all parties involved in discussions.

He said it will not be “a one-party state” in the future and to move into “a more mature” place of decision-making.

Green group leader Coun Andrew Cooper (Newsome) said: “It is simply not right that a party with 35 per cent of the vote can pick ten of its councillors to be on the Kirklees cabinet to have 100 per cent of the power.

“We need to involve all councillors in the decision-making of the council. No councillor would be a backbencher anymore.”

Leading member for the Holme Valley Independents, Coun Charles Greaves (Holme Valley North) said his group was “enthusiastically supportive” of the potential to move to a committee system.

He said: “It will bring in a more co-operative, balanced, listening approach – one which can work with residents for their benefit.

“This is the opportunity for real change. It will involve all councillors and offers the chance for residents’ voices to be heard above the noise of the party machines.”