After the May election, Sutton Liberal Democrats decided to marginalise residents in the North and East of the Borough, those most radically hit by the effects of the Viridor Incinerator, who dared to elect Independent or Labour Councillors.
Irrespective of their own reduced vote and an overall 3 seat majority, they set about ensuring that every Standing Committees had a 2 seat Liberal Democrat majority and that Labour and Independents should share one seat on all except Strategy & Resources.
The Conservative majority opposition group voted against this but Committee Services endorsed its unfair application.
But surely the Constitution will protect the people of Sutton and ensure proper scrutiny – after all, on the Council website it states:
The Constitution includes “the rules that the Council must follow”
The Housing Economy and Business Committee (HEB) had approved the redevelopment of the Beech Tree Place site on St Nicholas Way budgeted at £30 million. It had passed Planning Committee but then a hiccup appeared in the guise of full tenders for the work.
It necessitated a meeting of the Urgency Committee – a properly constituted committee consisting of just two Liberal Democrats, the Leader and Deputy Leader and one Conservative member. In the event, a second Conservative member, a member of the HEB Committee was allowed to attend to ask questions but not to vote.
What was the hiccup? Well rather than the £30 million projected cost, the meeting was to approve an increase of expenditure to a whopping £44.2 million – very close to a 50% increase. The Urgency Committee approved the increase.
The Independents have no representation on HEB and therefore no oversight, Cllr Vestey for Labour is on HEB but had no invitation to pose questions to the Urgency Committee. Concerned when the residents of Sutton, like those round the country, are facing tough economic times, Labour and the Independents looked to the Constitution and thought they had found the answer in section 23.4 which states very clearly:
Definitive action on any decision of any Council committee (except in relation to planning) will be delayed if any four members of the Council give notice in writing to the Chief Executive before 10:00am on the third working day following the meeting that they want to requisition that decision. The written notice must also state:-
- the reason the decision is being requisitioned;
- to which Council body the requisitioners wish the matter to be referred, i.e. either the Full Council, committee, panel, forum, or working party; and
- the outcome the members are seeking from this action.
We complied with the terms of that section and our suggested outcome was that the matter be debated at Full Council as the only area where Labour and Independent Councillors are able to contribute and awaited confirmation.
You guessed it – the Monitoring Officer has rejected the requisition.
It is strange because a requisition is, as you will note, not a request to be considered, but four elected Councillors requisitioning a decision.
Of course, whether you are an elected Liberal Democrat Councillor or someone who voted for them, you may like the idea of spending an additional £14.2 million in these straightened times – after all, it isn’t real money it is borrowed.
And if you think building 93 flats in Sutton represents good value in a housing crisis, that same budget would buy 130 flats on the market today. In fact the unit price of the accommodation will preclude any idea of shared ownership – they can only be rented and 50 years of rent will not pay down the debt!
We asked for scrutiny, we asked for possible deferment within our requisition but the Monitoring Officer said no. He added that the decision was not political and conveniently the Chief Executive is on vacation.
It makes a nonsense of democracy, it makes a nonsense of the Constitution and it makes fools of residents of the London Borough of Sutton.