The Isle of Wight Council’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee, which challenges decisions made ty the ruling Conservative group may as well be disbanded according to one of its former Chairman.
Geoff Brodie, Councillor for Newport East (pictured above) slammed the decision to give Tory Cllr Richard Hollis the position after Lib Dem Cllr Andrew Garratt stood down from the role, claiming the decision showed the Conservatives wanted to avoid criticism in the run up an election.
There were two other nominations for the post, which attracts a special responsibility allowance of over £8,000, which together with the basic councillor allowance pays £16, 242. Island Independent Cllr Michael Lilley and Cllr. Karl Love of the Independent Members Group also put their names forward. Cllr Love lost the first ballot, and when Cllr Lilley and Cllr Hollis went head to head, Cllr Lilley lost by five votes, with the Conservatives all voting to give the role to their colleague according to Cllr Garratt.
Cllr Brodie said after the meeting: “”Once again this Conservative administration shows its contempt for accountability. The Corporate Scrutiny Committee should be the prime vehicle by which Cabinet decisions are interrogated and it should be led by a robust opposition councillor, supported by sufficient officer time. We now have an arch-Tory apologist in charge of the rubber-stamp for decision-making. The Conservatives clearly want to ensure there is as little internal criticism as possible before next May’s elections. They may as well just disband the committee.”
Cllr Garratt said he had planned to stand down in May this year, but stayed on because of the Covid-19 crisis. He said Cllr Lilley had been an ‘exceptionally diligent and probing’ deputy, which he felt may have contributed to the Conservative’s decision to vote against him. He said: “I think this is not the right decision. Scrutiny should provide clear opposition to the administration. This sends completely the wrong message to the public when they need reassurance that scrutiny is independent.” He praised the officer who supports the Committee, Paul Thistlewood as very effective, but said the committee could do much more if it had more resources.
Council Leader Dave Stewart, who previously said it was inappropriate for the position to be held by a member of the ruling group, nominated Cllr. Hollis. He said that Cllr Garratt had been a good chairman and added: “My view on scrutiny is clear, it is not an ‘opposition’ position but a role in which the members of the committee act as a ‘critical friend’ to the Cabinet and Council Leadership.
“Add to this that we had a vacant position that would cover about six months of the remaining Council term, the priority for me was to have strong and fair leadership of the committee at this time.”
When it was pointed out that scrutiny has always been described as ‘a critical friend’ so his comment did not explain why he had changed his mind he responded: “I’ve answered your question in the way that I want to.”