At the Full Council meeting of Thursday 24th July elected members of the Canterbury District chose to change the style of governance in our area to a committee based system and away from the leader and cabinet style. Conservative Councillors Simon Cook and Neil Baker had brought this about by previously putting forward a motion for consideration which was successfully passed, with the vast majority of members voting in favour of the change.
Under the previous Labour Government, Parliament passed the Local Government Act 2000, requiring all but the smallest councils to move to an Executive-based system or a directly-elected Mayor and cabinet. For the Canterbury District, this meant the only realistic option was to have a council leader and cabinet model. Prior to the Conservative Group forming a majority in 2005, the Liberal Democrats and Labour had control in coalition, which was administered under the same executive system.
A Conservative policy in national Government brought about the Localism Act 2011. This has allowed District councils, who were previously dictated to centrally on the style of administration, the freedom to choose their own system of governance and the best model by which to serve their communities.
I believe it is absolutely right for the Canterbury District to return back to the committee system where, in my opinion, more councillors from all parties can not only be involved further in the decision making process, but will also be better placed to represent their residents views, concerns and opinions in a less hierarchical structure.
We must however be careful not to confuse the system with the people who run it. While some have criticised the Executive‘s decisions, there have been some great successes achieved through this model. These include the new Marlowe Theatre, the Beaney, which is now able to provide the District with 21st century library facilities whilst hosting national and international art exhibitions; a new waste and recycling contract and the Westgate Parks project - the list could go on.
Now that will have the committee system in place for the next term of the Council after the elections in May 2015, we should be careful not to think that all the problems and difficulties of local politics will disappear.
We will still be faced with huge pressures on our budgets and the challenge of finding innovative ways of maintaining existing services to residents and visitors alike. While I am pleased we have made this change we will do well to remember that it is not the system of governance that will determine the success of our Council, but the elected members who serve in it.
Councillor Steven A T Williams is a Conservative Councillor for Barton Ward on Canterbury City Council