Adur backbench councillors’ efforts to influence decisions often ‘futile’

Adur District Council's Shoreham Centre (photo from Google Maps Street View)
Adur District Council's Shoreham Centre (photo from Google Maps Street View)

Adur councillors have spoken about their feelings of ‘futility’ with not having enough influence over decisions being made in the district.

Labour’s David Balfe and Conservative Andy McGregor were speaking at a joint governance meeting with Worthing members, where they discussed the possibility of both councils moving from a cabinet to committee-based system of decision making.

Cabinets are made up of members of the ruling party, with a few members  given decision-making powers for individual specialisms, such as planning and the economy.

Mr Balfe, who represents Eastbrook, Southwick & Fishersgate, said councillors existed in ‘this futile world where we supposedly all get round tables and discuss things’.

He added: “But 99.9 per cent of the time the majority party just does what it wants and weathers what kind of inconvenient processes it has to go through before it gets its own way. I find that very depressing.

“I’ve been a councillor for 18 months, I had no idea it was going to be so futile.

“I genuinely find it hard to sometimes get out and do the stuff because I think ‘what difference does it make?'”

Mr McGregor said he had worked under the committee system, where members of all parties take part in the decision-making process, with suggestions and ideas coming from all quarters.

He told Mr Balfe: “You are finding it futile being in opposition but so are those of us who are backbenchers of the leading party. We find ourselves in exactly the same position as you in terms of decision making.”

Looking at the way the cabinet system is run, he added: “You can hold the decision makers to account but holding them to account does not have any input into the decision-making process itself.

“It just holds them to account once that decision has been made. And it is very much harder to reverse a decision that’s already been made than it is to influence a decision before it’s made.

“We are all elected to represent the public and if you have one person on the executive making that decision, are they representing all the people of Adur or all the people of Worthing?”

The discussion was centred around a notice of motion from Bob Smytherman (Lib Dem, Tarring). It had been sent to the committee by Worthing council because it also involved Adur.

Refusing to dismiss out of hand the idea of change, Mr McGregor suggested officers could provide a report explaining the costs of such a move and whether it would even be feasible.

Steve Waight (Con, Goring) was incredulous to hear the experiences of his Adur colleagues.

He said: “I’m a backbencher on Worthing for the administration. I’ve never felt impotent.

“If I want to make a comment about anything that’s going to be decided by any of our cabinet members or the executive, I’m perfectly capable of letting them know what I think and they do listen to what I say.”

Mr Waight said there appeared to be ‘a very big divide’ between the way the two councils worked if the Adur bankbenchers ‘feel that they’re impotent’.

The committee voted against the notice of motion, by nine votes to six.