The leader of Cambridge City Council, Labour’s Lewis Herbert, has offered to speak to me about the role of “Executive Councillors” in Cambridge. I am writing this article in advance of our discussion; after we’ve spoken I will provide an update below.
Role of Executive Councillors
Each of the seven councillors who are members of the Cambridge City Council executive are responsible for an area of the council’s operations.
Where decisions are not urgent they are considered, before they are made, at scrutiny committees. The executive councillor’s role at such committees is to listen to the discussion and recommendation of the committee and at the end state if they agree with the committee or not. Invariably their contribution is to state merely: “I do”.
Another public role of executive councillors is to answer questions from the public, and other councillors, on their areas of responsibility at full council meetings. Often executive councillors pass on questions to their officers and read out an officer response without making clear what their views on the matter are.
When setting the council’s annual budget, and considering the annual statement of what the council will do the executive councillors take the lead in their areas and support the council leader during the debate.
Meetings of the Executive
Quotes in News Releases
Officers include quotes attributed to executive councillors when drafting council news releases. For details see Section A of Appendix F to Part 4A of the Cambridge City Council Constitution.
Cambridge City Council offers its executive councillors a £8,346 bonus allowance on top of the £3,199 allowance offered to every councillor. The deputy leader of the council, executive councillor for the City Centre and Public Places Cllr Carina O’Reilly has complained the public money she takes home from the council doesn’t cover her rent.
Sometimes suggestions emerge that executive councillors are doing other things outside of public meetings of the council. These are the areas about which I would like to find out more, and in respect of which I would like to see greater transparency:
- Routine, weekly, meetings of the Executive have been referred to. If these exist I think they should be publicised on the council’s website in the same way as other meetings with times, dates, papers and attendance published. They should be open to the public unless councillors lawfully decide to exclude the public. The Executive Procedure Rules, part 4D of the the council’s constitution, clearly state: “The Executive shall meet in public except where it resolves to exclude the press and public.” One ex executive councillor has denied such meetings occurred, another said recently they were held monthly.
- Executive councillors have claimed to have had a role in writing reports making recommendations to themselves via scrutiny committees. The reports state their authors are council officers. If executive councillors are formulating their own recommendations there ought be greater transparency, and authorship information on reports to committees should be correct.
- Ex-executive councillor Sarah Brown has stated executive councillors get advance, draft, copies of officer reports to meetings.
- Current Executive Councillor Peter Roberts has stated he has a public:private meeting ratio of 1:20, an ex Executive Councillor has given some examples of types of private meeting executive councillors might attend.
I don’t want councillors spending many hours and days in private meetings. I want councillors setting strategy, taking decisions and overseeing the council in public.
I don’t want councillors working in the council sitting next to officers and directing them on a day to day basis especially when that then leads to councillors wanting to be paid public money for doing a job.