What’s the point of council meetings?

More decisions need to be taken at full council meetings.

More decisions need to be taken at full council meetings. - Credit: Archant

After May’s county council elections, there were fine words from the re-elected Conservative administration at Endeavour House about the need to involve more councillors in decision-making.

Having spoken to leader Mark Bee and other one or two other senior councillors about this, I have no doubt about their sincerity.

But frankly they must try a great deal harder – because more and more major decisions are being made by the authority’s cabinet, and the full council meetings appear to be getting less and less important.

So far this month we have had a cabinet meeting in Bury St Edmunds that lasted from 11am to 5pm. It decided major issues like the council’s attitude to the development of the A14 and its initial response to the “Raising the Bar” report.

Two weeks later we had a full council meeting that lasted two hours, most of which time was spent on a couple of worthy (but hardly earth-shattering) motions put down by the opposition.

Cabinet meetings are, of course, open to the public and any council member can have a say – but only the eight cabinet members can have a vote so any decisions are pretty foregone conclusions.

There have been rumblings about this growth of cabinet power among the opposition for some time – but now I’ve heard senior (and very loyal) members of the Conservative group suggesting that really more decisions should be taken by the full council.

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Of course the problem is that once councillors have climbed to the top of the pole and find themselves in the cabinet, they are naturally reluctant to devolve powers that they have finally acheived.

But if the authority – which now has a very slim Conservative majority – is to continue to act harmoniously, the full council must be allowed to have a bigger say.