Scrutiny Committee is one of the most powerful tools in the checks and balances on the executive in councils. It gives a wide range of councillors the chance to inspect policy at close detail, to question key officers and to analyse and probe the workings of the authority. I have been very impressed by the work of the scrutiny committee (on which I serve) and think it has a big role especially in a hung council. Scrutiny matters and, thus, the Chair of Scrutiny matters.
Last year it was held by now-former Councillor Ian Couzens who took on the role as he was then Leader of the Opposition. (It, in my view, really needs to be an opposition councillor doing the job because as Chair of Scrutiny you set the agenda and if the Chair was the same colour as the administration they may not be as vigerous in keeping tabs on their work). Even after the new leadership of Hereward Cooke took over, Ian kept his position and did a good job.
So you might image that this year Hereward would step into the role as Leader of the Opposition. Not so. Apparently the Opposition Leader has no right to the job.
On Tory run authorities in Norfolk they are changing the rules so that Conservatives Chair scrutiny and sideline our opponents - so in Broadland an Independent Councillor will do it instead of the LibDems. I will be honest and say that I do not favour this as I don't think it aids democracy and accountability very well.
Anyway, here in Norwich the LibDems have lost the Chairmanship of Scrutiny and it has been given to the Greens, whom Steve Morphew described in today's EDP as being "more honest".
Now the LibDems can't seem to walk anywhere in Norwich without getting a smack in the mouth by a garden rake. A few years back they gained control with a massive swing and controlled the council with a big majority and a lot of goodwill. They seemed odds-on to oust Clarke and seemed to be motoring.
Now they are reduced to a rump of councillors, with many of them predicted to lose their seats next time around. They are split from top to bottom over their Council Leadership as well as their controversial choice of PPC for Norwich South. Their campaigning has gone into meltdown and they seem to pose no threat to anyone at the moment. So losing the Chair of Scrutiny must seem like being slapped with a wet fish, whilst you're down.
Instead, bright eyed Green Councillor Claire Stephenson steps in the ring - apparently saying that Scrutiny will look at things through Green eyes now. I do hope that isn't the start of the party politics on Scrutiny. We have enough of that on council without it dripping into committee too. Claire is intelligent, hard working and popular - I'm sure she'll do a good job and the mark of that is keeping her own side under control too! So watch out, Cllr Ramsay.
Now Labour justify this decision by saying that the LibDems are two-faced, lied in their election material (when don't they???) and cannot be trusted to Chair such an important committee.
According to the EDP battle lines are now drawn between Labour and the LibDems. My advice would be thus. To Cooke, the LibDems squaring up to Labour is like a 4 year old taking on a nightclub bouncer at the moment. Don't bother, bide your time. To Ramsay, make sure your party is being politically plundered by Labour ... sometimes power isn't worth selling yourself out for. To Morphew, let's keep a good natured co-operation good for a while longer.
NOC is going to be even more interesting this year...