Thursday, 16 April 2015

Thanet Greens Demand Democratic "Shake-Up" at TDC

Thanet Green Party, which is running 13 candidates in the forthcoming council elections, has called for radical changes in the management of TDC. The Greens claim that the current system of decision making is undemocratic, unaccountable and secretive. Green Councillor, Ian Driver, said “what’s needed is a major shake-up  to end years of bad practice, incompetence and maladministration. A more democratic and open system of doing business will help to restore trust in TDC and rehabilitate its disreputable and tarnished image”.

THE PRESENT SYSTEM Thanet Council operates what is called a Leader and Cabinet system of decision making. Councillors elect a Leader, who then appoints  4 or 5 Cabinet members, from the same political party, to help the Leader run the Council. This small team of Councillors make 95% of TDCs l decisions about spending, asset disposal, policy making etc. Often a single Cabinet member makes decisions on his/her own.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS SYSTEM? Having decisions made by a small group of people, or even by one person, is supposed to mean that the Council can act quickly and decisively. But in practice it produces the opposite effect. Decisions made without sufficient thought, by people from the same political party, without proper consultation and without proper debate, arouse resentment from local people. Instead of swift action we then get a long drawn-out battles which could have been avoided. We've seen how this works in practice in Thanet with –

• The Pleasurama Project in Ramsgate 
• The TransEuropa Ferries secret £3.4 million debt scandal 
• The demolition of the Little Oasis Skatepark in Margate 
• The East Kent Opportunities Planning Application
• The Dreamland amusement park project 
• The Compulsory Purchase of Manston Airport
· The refusal to allow filming of council meetings, despite Government advice to do so and many, many more

Many political experts have warned about the dangers of concentrating too much power into the hands of a small group of people from the same party. Some of the pitfalls include the Leader using the power of patronage to surround him/herself with yes men and women. Officers being fearful of disagreeing with powerful politicians because they might lose their jobs. Lack of challenge means that a culture of fear can quickly be established leading to bad decision making, poor behaviour and even corruption. We have seen how this works in practice in Thanet with –

• The jailing of ex-Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel for misconduct in public office
• Reports of the Local Government Association Peer Review and the Independent Standards Committee Members about the dysfunctional, poisonous and toxic culture at Thanet Council
• Ex- TDC Cabinet members  nobbling investigations into serious misconduct by themselves
• The development of a culture of secrecy where decisions are made behind closed doors

WHAT'S THE ALTERNATIVE? The Localism Act 2011, gives Councils the option to change their decision making system from a Leader/ Cabinet system to a Committee system. Under this system, the Council forms several committees each dealing with a particular area of council work such as housing, refuse collection, environment health, street sweeping etc. All councillors serve on one or more of these committees, and the committees make recommendations about spending and polices to the full Council for its approval.

WOULD IT BE BETTER? No system is perfect but the committee system has a number of advantages over the current Leader/Cabinet system such as -
• Decisions would be more thoroughly debated. More councillors from all the political parties would be involved in these debates leading to a more balanced decision.
• Decisions would be informed by a greater range of knowledge and experience
• Councillors would all build up their expertise and knowledge by serving on committees. 
• Members of the public with specialist knowledge and experience can be invited to serve on Council committees to advise councillors.
• There would be less secrecy and greater transparency - key information and the real reasons for decisions could no longer hidden by a small group of powerful politicians or a single person.

HOW CAN WE MAKE THE CHANGE?  If Green Party Councillors are elected to Thanet Council  on May 7th we will put forward a motion to the first available Council meeting to abolish the Leader/ Cabinet and replace it with Committee system. If we are unable to win support for this motion we will work with others to set up a non-party political campaign to force a local referendum  so that  local people can vote to change from the Cabinet system to the Committee system. To trigger the referendum we would need a petition signed by 5% of the electorate - at present that's 4,997.

ARE OTHER COUNCIL’S CHANGING THEIR SYSTEMS? About 50  Council’s in England have already changed from a Cabinet to a Committee system including Nottinghamshire County Council, Norfolk County Council, Brighton and Hove City Council, Newark and Sherwood District Council, Kingston and Sutton Council, Fylde District Council and Maidstone Borough Council.  A campaign to change Canterbury City Council from a Cabinet to a Committee system is already underway which is getting close to the required number of signatures to force a referendum.


  1. We need a police investigation into the corruption too. Sandy didn't do everything by himself

  2. Shouldn't O'Regan and the port be in your list.

  3. Canterbury has already decided to change to a committee system.