For some time there have been cross-party meetings in the council to discuss the council’s budget. The Labour Group has taken a decision that we will no longer participate, writes Cllr Shaz Nawaz, Labour leader.
The reason for our withdrawal is straightforward: we have a different vision. Furthermore, the current system isn’t functioning.
Budget proposals are put forward by officers of the council: they are thorough and dedicated, but they are civil servants. It is not their role to set out policy, rather, they fill in the details, of which there are many. Then these complex proposals are presented to the cross-party meetings as a fait accompli.
In the opinion of the Labour Group, the working groups and committees need sufficient time in order to ensure adequate presentation of reports and drafts by the relevant officers.
Furthermore, we need more space for questions by councillors on any areas which are insufficiently clear or where further detail is required. Additionally, we need more time for debate. Finally, working groups and committees need to be cross-party in their composition in order to make certain that there is full democratic participation.
Given that this is what is not currently happening, all we could hope for out of the current set-up, at best, is some tinkering at the edges. We might get some minor concessions, but the overall direction of travel would not change. Then, the council could proclaim that the budget was the result of a cross-party consensus, stating that it was representative of all strands of opinion. Meanwhile, our public services would continue to decline, present arrangements for financial management would continue undisturbed, and the people of this city would remain poorly served. Also, this statement could be used to smother any further objections: “You were in the room when these decisions were made”.
I pledged in my first speech as leader that we would maintain high standards of behaviour; I didn’t agree to refrain from opposing the present administration when it is appropriate.
Indeed, I made it clear that we will be an effective opposition, challenging and scrutinising whenever it is necessary.
No government functions well unless there is an opposition to hold it vigorously to account.
To suggest that we should agree for the sake of agreeing, and be accomplices to policies with which we fundamentally disagree is not how a democracy is supposed to function; this is the very point of having an adversarial system. We believe there is a better way: we want to maintain our independence and thus our ability to effectively critique the current proposals.
Accomplices no more, we are free to offer a fairer, more effective, and more efficient alternative.