Harborough councillor accuses ruling council group of 'diluting local democracy' by reducing the number of annual meetings

But the council leader angrily hit back, claiming that is 'absolute poppycock'

Friday, 14th May 2021, 4:55 pm
Updated Friday, 14th May 2021, 4:56 pm
Harborough District Council's headquarters.

A leading Harborough councillor has accused the ruling Tory group of “diluting local democracy” by reducing the number of annual meetings.

Cllr Phil Knowles, who heads up the Liberal Democrats on Harborough District Council, slammed the Conservatives for cutting back on planning and full council get-togethers.

But Cllr Phil King, the council leader, angrily hit back immediately – insisting his Lib Dem counterpart was talking “absolute poppycock”.

Cllr Knowles told the Harborough Mail: “This isn’t good enough.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is an assault on democracy.

“But it is a definite dilution of local democracy.”

The veteran councillor said the move to cut the meetings calendar was made at the Annual Council forum on Wednesday May 5.

''In 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 our authority held 12 planning meetings annually - yet now they are being slashed to just nine.

“The full council met eight times in 2018/19 and nine times in 2019/20,” said Cllr Knowles.

“Even at the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020/21 the full council meeting went ahead six times.

“But now the Tories are telling us that we will only meet four times every year.

“That’s not acceptable.

“I made my views clear at our annual council meeting a few days ago – as did my party.

“But this is being pushed through, it’s cast in stone and there’s nothing we can do about it,” fumed Cllr Knowles.

“There is a need for some delegation to officers.

“I accept that.

“But are we now at the tipping point?

“Are we as councillors delegating too much?

“If there is no business on a Planning Agenda it’s a simple process to cancel a meeting.

“But putting in a meeting at short notice might not prove so simple.

“At a time when we are having major housing developments built around Market Harborough and right across Harborough planning meetings have never been so crucial.

“We need to be able to have our say at these forums – as do the public,” said the Liberal Democrat leader.

“Full council meetings are a great opportunity to hear the leader’s report and ask salient questions.

“It’s the ideal chance for our whole council to discuss and debate. “Meeting only four times a year will dramatically reduce those opportunities.

“I’ve always said – democracy has to be done and seen to be done.

“I have very deep concerns about the democratic direction our authority is heading in.”

But Cllr King, who leads Harborough council, told the Mail: “We are not diluting democracy for the people of Harborough one iota.

“This is absolute poppycock.

“Cllr Knowles is merely scaremongering.”

The bullish Conservative boss said the council adopted a strong leader and executive model back in 2011.

“Most of our decisions are taken by the leader – me – and our Cabinet.

“There is a rigorous scrutiny function and all of our plans and our work are fully scrutinised,” declared Cllr King.

“We publish our forward plan of action every single week.

“This model has been in place for over a decade now.

“And it’s followed by a lot of other local councils all over the country.

“But we didn’t chop back the number of planning and full council meetings we hold when we adapted this model in 2011.

“We are acting to do that now.

“There is no need to keep staging so many meetings when we have already made the decision at Cabinet.

“Those decisions are totally scrutinised – they’re not being forced through the back door.

“And both members of the public and councillors like Phil Knowles can come along to Cabinet meetings as he well knows,” said Cllr King.

“We adhere to and follow the proper local democratic process every step of the way.

“But we all have to change and adapt.

“We are streamlining the number of meetings we hold to become more efficient and more effective.

“Meetings take up a lot of staff time, a lot of effort – and there is simply no need to duplicate and triplicate,” said Cllr King.

“Cllr Knowles might not agree because his opportunities to make a song and dance and grandstand are being diminished.

“We were getting about 12 planning applications a month – but now we’re just receiving two to be considered.

“The bottom line is this – everyone is able to have a full say in what we do here at Harborough District Council.

“All of our councillors and the public have just as big a voice now as they have done for decades since councils were founded in the first place.

“So it’s total nonsense to accuse us of diluting democracy at grassroots level – it’s just not the case.”