Opposition councillors at North East Lincolnshire have accused leaders of “eroding” democracy and “stitching up” scrutiny at the authority’s first post-COVID restrictions full council meeting.
During the meeting at Grimsby Auditorium on Thursday evening, councillors criticised changes to the constitution which required questions on scrutiny minutes to be submitted in advance.
They also hit out at the allocation of seats on committees, noting that there were six opposition members on scrutiny panels, while nine were placed on judicial groups such as planning or licensing.
Labour leader Councillor Matthew Patrick said the recommendations would result in the “erosion of accountability” and “undermine scrutiny”.
He said when he was a portfolio holder, he had a duty to know his portfolio, and that it was up to the other side to trip him up, but that this would remove that element of scrutiny.
Other members suggested the changes meant portfolio holders weren’t familiar with their charges.
On the allocation to committees, Labour and Co-operative Group Member Councillor Rob Wilson said: “Most people would say they don’t want opposition – this is a a stitch-up.
“This is not fair and it’s not the right thing to do unless you want to shut the opposition up.”
Leaders, however, said the changes to the constitution would improve accountability by removing irrelevant or repetitive questions and allowing portfolio holders time to prepare detailed answers.
They added supplementary questions would not need to be submitted in advance.
Conservative Councillor Ian Lindley, Portfolio Holder for Children, education and skills, said he had spent half an hour at a recent meeting being “bombarded by questions – all around the same topic.”
He accused his opposition of trying to “catch members on the hop or trying to embarrass them,” rather than providing proper scrutiny.
Council leader Philip Jackson added there were also other avenues for scrutiny including contacting the portfolio holders directly.
He later added: “The reason they have so few members on scrutiny panels is because they have so few councillors.
“The people of North East Lincolnshire have spoken and said Labour will have so few places.”
Following the meeting, he defended his cabinet.
He said: “They are very familiar with their territory, but they can’t be expected to be familiar with areas that are either totally irrelevant or are so detailed, that it is impossible to be able to answer a question off the cuff – so it’s a matter of asking realistic questions.”