Slough Tories criticise Labour chairman appointments

James Bagley, Local Democracy Reporter

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The opposition have scolded Slough Council’s Labour administration for continuing to appoint members from the ruling group to chair all committees.

The council has six scrutiny panels, which tasks members to scrutinise and hold the cabinet, portfolio holders, and officers to account for their decisions and work, as well as other committees such as planning and licensing. 

Despite a few panels having vice-chairs from the opposing Conservative Party, such as the audit and corporate governance committee, all committees and panels are chaired by councillors from the ruling Labour Party.

This is because Slough Labour hold the majority of seats at the council and can continually elect chairs of panels and committees with or without support from the opposition.

At an annual full council meeting on Thursday, May 20, councillor Dexter Smith (Con, Colnbrook with Poyle) told members he found it 'unacceptable' the opposition was not consulted to the changes in scrutiny panels and chairs are from Labour.

He said: “I think it underlines how the ruling group really is not wishing to carry the whole council with it when it comes to scrutiny.

“Unlike most councils in this country, the chair of scrutiny is not from the opposition but is appointed from the ruling group, and now we have a situation where an official councillor from the opposition is not even consulted on the total restructuring of scrutiny panels.”

The leader of the Conservatives, councillor Wayne Strutton (Haymill and Lynch Hill) added scrutiny has been lacking as pointed out in the two damning audit reports on the council’s 2018/19 accounts and the opposition should be chairs, or at least vice-chairs, of the main scrutiny panels in order to properly hold the authority and cabinet members to account.

But council leader councillor James Swindlehurst (Lab, Cippenham Green) hit out, saying Labour has been ‘generous’ with the level of political support time of 12 hours the opposition get with committees when they are only entitled to about six to seven hours.

He said: “This is the second year running that the Conservative group is getting 12 hours for their five elected members.

“Now, we have an awful lot of talk in this chamber about how unfair this administration is to the Conservative group and having starved them out of roles, but it is inarguable you are not entitled to the level of support that we have chosen to give you.

“We are giving you that support to make it a worthwhile job for somebody to be able to do and we recognise that providing the opposition support to carry out their functions is important to enabling a democracy.”

Meanwhile, Labour councillor Harjinder S. Gahir (Wexham Lea) was elected to be chairman of the main overview and scrutiny panel, which will be vice-chaired by Fiza A. Matloob (Lab, Baylis and Stoke).

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