- Leaked document shows Opposition functions are not being carried out by City’s Official Opposition
- Council Leader challenged to support review into legality of governance arrangements at Brighton & Hove City Council
Conservative Group Whip Robert Nemeth has said that the Council Leader’s current refusal to support a review into the legality of governance arrangements at Brighton & Hove City Council was a deeply troubling moment for local democracy in the City.
Cllr Nemeth called for the review at December’s Full Council meeting following publication in the local press of a document that spelled out exactly how Labour and the Greens have been jointly governing the City since May 2019.
The document shows a Coalition-style arrangement across wide areas of Council policy with a ‘non-opposition’ pact in place where basic Opposition functions are not being carried out across a range of portfolio areas.
At December’s Full Council meeting Cllr Nemeth challenged the Leader of the Council to live up to his manifesto pledge to make Brighton & Hove the country’s most democratic City, asking if he would support a review into the legality of a situation where Opposition Councillors are still taking Opposition wages when it’s in black and white that Opposition functions are not being carried out
The Leader of the Council would not support such a review.
Labour and Greens Councillors currently claim somewhere approaching £2.7 million in taxpayers’ allowances over the four years from 2019-2023 for being both Administration and Opposition at the same time.
Conservative Group Whip Robert Nemeth said that it was clear that basic democracy and the public interest was not being served by the current arrangements.
“The agreement shows that major decisions that impact residents are not being made transparently or fairly for residents but instead being made secretively behind closed doors prior to council meetings on a confidential basis.
“Worst of all the Leader of the Council and Leader of the Opposition deliberately kept this document secret from the public for 18 months. It only came to light following a leak from one of their two groups.
“The arrangement is a manipulation of the democratic process. Most people instinctively recognise that it’s not defensible to claim to be an administration and an Opposition at the same time. The City cannot improve while it has an ineffective Opposition that is not doing its job.
“The Greens’ Leader said on Page 1 of his party’s 2019 Election manifesto that he wanted Brighton & Hove to be the most democratic city in the country – in reality we have the least democratic council in the country” Cllr Nemeth added.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (From 02:50:00 on council webcast):
COUNCILLOR ROBERT NEMETH TO LEADER OF THE COUNCIL – DEMOCRACY IN BRIGHTON & HOVE
Thank you Mr Mayor,
We appreciated the upfront answers that were given by the Leader of the Council at the last meeting of Full Council, and were particularly impressed by the Leader ensuring that all questions were answered when he could have easily hidden away the 30-minute cut-off. So thanks for that.
In response to my question, I was told that a secret agreement existed between the Green and Labour Groups and that it wouldn’t be released. Fair enough.
It was sadly leaked anyway and of course confirms what we asserted which is that Opposition Councillors have agreed not to oppose.
Given that Opposition Councillors are still taking Opposition wages, and it’s in black and white that opposition functions are not being carried out, would the Leader support a review by the relevant Council body into the legality of this situation?
RESPONSE FROM THE LEADER OF THE COUNCIL
Thank you Cllr Nemeth for the Question.
As you well know Councillor Nemeth the appointments to committees were agreed at Full Council and it was open to all members of a committee to scrutinise the policy which you or any other member could have done as a member of any of the committees.
I think I am also rather dismayed we are in the middle of a pandemic and instead of keeping the focus on doing the best for our City your questions are repeatedly on the same matter. You asked virtually the same questions 2 months ago.
The City I think needs action it doesn’t need this sort of spat.
SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION FROM COUNCILLOR ROBERT NEMETH
Regardless of the technicalities just mentioned, does the Leader of the Council agree that such a situation – which includes secret pre-meets, pre-agreed policy positions – does not fully tally with the Green Party’s manifesto aspiration to make Brighton & Hove the most democratic city in the country?
RESPONSE FROM THE LEADER OF THE COUNCIL
When we are talking about democracy Cllr Nemeth I’m afraid I won’t be taking lectures from a party that you know has seen fit to break international law and obligations over Brexit and indeed councillors failing to comply with the Council’s own code of conduct for members. So I’m sorry but I’m not going to be taking any lectures on this.
The appropriate process came through the relevant council bodies.
You know even some of this joint working that is notionally secret has been agreed on places like housing committee. You know, not only was it made public it was actually voted on at Committee as well.
Also this isn’t a secret deal. We published and I believe the Labour Group as well also published soon after the local elections in June last year I believe we both published statements saying that we were intending to work together because we wanted to put the best interests of our city first.
Thank you for the question.