Greens call for referendum on local council democracy

Controversial changes to how decisions are taken at Brighton & Hove City Council should be put to residents before being finalised, say Green councillors.

The Labour-run council recently unveiled plans to scrap the existing committee system and instead replace it with a ‘cabinet’ system.

If approved, the changes will mean key decisions could be left to a small cohort of Labour councillors, often taken without any public scrutiny either from opposition councillors or residents.

Greens say the council should allow local people to vote on Labour’s plans – a people’s vote on changes to local democracy.

They say Labour’s plan would strip away at the foundations of local democracy in the city. Labour have already resticted opposition councillors’ ability to start debates in the council chamber, with public petitions submitted ahead of deadlines being left off council agendas.

A report outlining the planned change to a cabinet system suggests scrutiny committees would meet only a handful of times each year – and potentially soon be made up exclusively of Labour councillors.

Why does this matter?

Decision making on key issues impacting the entire city, such as those relating to air quality, could also be made exclusively by a single councillor appointed lead member for that policy area – or be delegated to council officers – while more power would be concentrated in the hands of the leader of the council leader.

Research into the structure of existing cabinet systems being used at 57 other unitary authorities across the country also found the vast majority (44) had four or more scrutiny committees. Locally, in Brighton and Hove, Labour have proposed just two.

Green Party councillors propose a local referendum on Labour’s plans – a people’s vote on changes to local democracy.

Without a referendum, Greens argue, it means no mandate currently exists for significant changes to local democracy. Not least because Labour made no mention of the controversial plans in its manifesto ahead of the last council elections.

Cllr Steve Davis, Green leader of the opposition on Brighton & Hove City Council, said Green councillors had submitted a notice of motion – also backed by Conservative councillors – calling for a referendum, which councillors will debate at Full Council on 28 March.

“This is nothing more than a power grab by the local Labour leadership. It is a significant and concerning change to how our democracy works in Brighton and Hove and one which we are firmly opposed to.

“This was not in Labour’s manifesto. They do not have a mandate to force through such sweeping changes which have the potential to undermine local democracy.

“Residents need to be given the chance to have their say on these plans. Any changes should be delayed until after a people’s vote and Labour should commit to honouring its outcome.

“If the Labour leadership is adamant this is a positive step for the city and not just their own party, they should be confident enough to make their case to the people of Brighton and Hove and agree to abide by what residents decide.”


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