Paper tigers

On the Facebook page Pembrokeshire Local Election 2017, the site’s host and independent candidate for Rudbaxton, Ryan Dansie, promises that, if elected, he will put down a notice of motion calling for powers to be transferred from the cabinet to full council.

Indeed the site is well stocked with candidates promising to go around breaking eggs with a stick if only the voters will put their faith in them.

As those of us who have experience of the system have learned over the years, it is not that simple.

Mr Dansie rightly says that the present system, which places most important decisions in the hands of ten cabinet members to the exclusion of the other 50 councillors is undemocratic.

As I have been banging on about this ever since the Act was passed seventeen years ago, all I can say to Mr Dansie is: welcome to the club.

I well remember the former chief executive, Bryn Parry-Jones, telling the council that the aim of the Local Government Act 2000, which introduced the cabinet system, was to “streamline decision-making”.

As I have long argued (see No quick answers) streamlined decision-making and democracy are uneasy bedfellows because true democracy’s strong point is that decisions are only taken after extensive debate involving careful examination of the facts.

And that, in my view, is why, if you look around the world, you will find that all the places where people live under conditions of relative prosperity and freedom are democracies.

However, that said, I’m afraid Mr Dansie’s proposed NoM is doomed to failure because the cabinet’s monopoly over important decisions is enshrined in statute (S13 (2) of the Local Government Act 2000).

Functions which are the responsibility of an executive

Subject to any provision made by this Act or by any enactment which is passed or made after the day on which this Act is passed, any function of a local authority which is not specified in regulations under subsection (3) is to be the responsibility of an executive of the authority under executive arrangements.

Subsection (3) gives the Secretary of State (Welsh Government) powers to either remove functions from the cabinet’s remit (a), or give councils the choice (b).

The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for any function of a local authority specified in the regulations –

(a) to be a function which is not to be the responsibility of an executive of the authority under executive arrangements,

(b) to be a function which may be the responsibility of such an executive under such arrangements.

Put simply, the position is that the cabinet will have control unless the Welsh Government decides otherwise.

So, if Mr Dansie  wants to clip the cabinet’s wings, his first port of call should be the Labour government in Cardiff.

And I should point out that the LGA 2000 was the work of a Labour government and that it was piloted through Parliament by none other than John Prescott.

Interestingly, the Welsh Assembly did exercise the powers under S13(2)(b) when it gave councils the option to transfer decisions on schools’ reorganisation from cabinet to full council.

An alert Grumpette noticed this change and called an extraordinary meeting of council when her NoM placing school reorganisation in  hands of the council was passed by an overwhelming majority.

Indeed the only two members who voted against were Johnny Allen-Mirehouse and the “truly independent” candidate for Pembroke St Mary South, Daphne Bush.

I hope nobody will accuse me of trying to make up for not buying her a birthday present if I say that Grumpette’s initiative was crucial to retaining sixth form education in Haverfordwest’s secondary school (and probably elsewhere in the county) because if the decision had been left in the hands of the cabinet it would have been whistled through with the minimum of debate.