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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Not taking advice

This morning's Western Mail reports that legal officers on Blaenau Gwent Council are trying to prevent a local Councillor from voting on an important matter of policy affecting his ward because he has been actively campaigning on the issue.

Sadly, this sort of nonsense is becoming all too prevalent in local government as officers seek to use the law to tie the hands of elected representatives in an effort to stop them campaigning on matters of importance to their constituents. If anything legal advice like this is a complete negation of the stated role of Councillors as community representatives and should be stamped on by the Assembly Government.

It is already the case in planning that a Councillor must not participate in a planning decision if he or she has pre-determined the outcome of an application. This is now part of the code of conduct for Councillors and goes hand-in-glove with the other part of that code that there should be no party whip or collusion on a planning application. The Government has been able to enforce this because planning is considered to be a quasi-judicial process in which the rights of the applicant have to be protected on an equal basis to those of the community.

However, other policy matters, including the closure of old people's homes as in Blaenau Gwent, are not in that category and nor should they be allowed to be so categorised. If this trend continues and if politicians allow this legal mindset to prevail then councils will become officer-led automations with little or no political direction, alienated from local communities and treating backbench Councillors as little more than voting fodder. That must not be allowed to happen.
I have even heard of a case where a monitoring officer has ruled that a councillor has been fettered merely for /hearing/ a delegation on a matter before committee.

This is nonsense, which one suspects is encouraged by a centralising administrations which wants to eliminate all but token local democracy.

- Frank Little
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