I was appalled by the Conservatives disrupting an ‘independent’ scrutiny meeting to announce their highways manifesto

Why are the Tories running so scared on highways that they need to leak their own manifesto? But that was what happened in a scrutiny committee today. In breach of every understanding of how ‘independent’ scrutiny committees work, the deputy leader of the council launched the Tory manifesto for highways mid meeting.

We are of course gearing up for elections in May. But manifestos are not council business. The Conservatives don’t understand that.

Today was appalling and at least two formal complaints have been lodged. But why are the Tories so scared they needed to launch their highways manifesto in a fairly obscure meeting?

Councils that have the cabinet system, where councillors around the top table are given huge powers, must be subject to overview and scrutiny. Scrutiny was envisaged as being like commons select committees. Independently challenging the administration of the day on the issues of the day.

That has never happened in Shropshire. It is a pretence that scrutiny chairs are elected by full council.  The scrutiny and overview chairs are a personal appointment of the leader of the council and get £22,500 a year for the role.

There is a dominant majority of Conservatives on the council and the leader insists that all scrutiny and overview chairs are Conservatives.

Conservatives do what they are told by council leader. On the rare occasion when Tories rebel, they are told they will lose the whip if they do it again. When I asked one Tory if he would support a motion on the innocuous topic of snow wardens, he had to check ‘upstairs’. He was told, in his words, he would be ‘drummed out of the brownies’ if he signed a cross party motion that was not led by the Tories.

Such is the control that Tories have over every bit of the committee system and the administration of Shropshire Council, they think they can do whatever they want whenever they want. That happened today.

Steve Charmley, deputy leader of the council, is not a member of the Place Overview Committee. But like any councillor he has the right to join any committee and to speak with the permission of the chair. In an intervention that was so staged it had the feeling of amateur dramatics, he launched the Tories’ highways manifesto. A straight election pitch with promises that were intended to undercut any committee discussion.

I made a point of order but that was no more acknowledged by the chair who had so obviously expected the intervention.

I have since complained to the monitoring officer and I have seen another complaint to the same purpose.

This was an astonishing breach of the understanding we have within the council about the way that scrutiny and overview works. It will be up to the chief monitoring officer to rule whether the Charmley intervention breached protocols. I am not holding my breath on that as I have no faith that political complaints are dealt with non-politically.

Whatever happens about today’s Tory invasion into the Place Overview Committee, there will remain one question.

Why are the Tories running so scared on highways that they need to leak their own manifesto? I think most of us know the answer to that.

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