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Proposed changes to Caerphilly Council’s constitution criticised as ‘attack on democracy’

Caerphilly County Borough Council offices

OPPOSITION councillors have branded proposed changes to Caerphilly Council’s constitution as an “attack on democracy”.

At next week’s full council meeting, councillors will debate proposals to change the council’s constitution, which sets out how the local authority operates and makes decisions.

One of the proposals is to reduce the amount of scrutiny committees from five to three, which would mean the amount of scrutiny positions will drop from 80 to 54.

Opposition councillors have fiercely criticised the changes. Council leader Sean Morgan said the proposals aim to ensure the democratic process becomes more “efficient, inclusive and productive”.

If approved, the new committees will be called: education and social services scrutiny, housing and environment scrutiny, and corporate and regeneration scrutiny.

Cllr Sean Morgan

Other changes include a restriction on the amount of questions asked by councillors at meetings, only one notice of motion to be discussed per meeting, and only supported motions will be passed to full council or cabinet.

Plaid Cymru group leader councillor Lindsay Whittle said he is “incandescent” with rage at the “attempts to silence” the opposition.

Cllr Whittle, who represents Penyrheol, said: “The proposal to cut the number of scrutiny committees will mean some Plaid Cymru councillors, Independent members and even Labour councillors will not sit on any scrutiny committee.

“Surely, one of the key roles of all councillors is scrutinise the policies and plans of the majority group – that is going to be a lot more difficult if these proposals are pushed through.”

Cllr Lindsay Whittle

Leader of the independent group, Cllr Kevin Etheridge, has said the changes make it “impossible” for the independents to scrutinise the council.

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He said: “I believe this is the death of and an attack on democracy.  I have written to Cllr Whittle, as the main opposition leader, suggesting if the ruling group does not reconsider the matter we should both withdraw from scrutiny committees – as scrutiny seems to count for nothing.”

Cllr Etheridge, who represents Blackwood, said the amount of cabinet members should also be reduced if the council is to push through with its proposals.

Cllr Kevin Etheridge

Scrutiny meetings will continue to take place every six weeks and the amount of members sitting on the committees will be increased from 16 to 18.

Currently there are 44 Labour, 18 Plaid Cymru, and six independent elected members sitting on the council – the scrutiny committees’ memberships are made-up in proportion to this.

The report states: “The political balance for a scrutiny committee of 18 based on current arrangements would provide 12 seats for Labour, five for Plaid Cymru, and one for the Independents group.

Cllr Morgan, who represents Nelson, defended the council’s proposals. He said: “With increased membership on scrutiny committees, and by using the all member scrutiny which we have successfully trialled over the past couple of years, this will provide increased member input on the broader issues and overarching policies that govern the running of the council.

“After Audit Wales recently questioned the effectiveness of scrutiny and expressed the view that they would like to see fewer items scrutinised, but in more depth, I believe these changes will satisfy Audit Wales and lead to a more open, transparent and robust examination of the council’s functions.”

Caerphilly County Borough Council has been contacted for comment.