WORKING in what is effectively a hung council, with elections three out of every four years, is hindering progress at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, according to the review team.
Focusing on the council’s political and managerial leadership, the Peer Challenge Team noted: “Both the leader (Councillor Clive Sanders) and chief executive (Tony Curtis) are well-respected for their achievements and partnership working.”
They added: “The leader is clear that ‘standing still’ is not an option, and he and other lead councillors feel frustrated that realisation of the council’s priorities is being hampered by some members.
“The problems in moving forward are further exacerbated by working in what is effectively a NOC (no overall control) council, with elections by thirds (three out of every four years). Hence members are in ‘election mode’ a lot of the time. This potentially leads to short-termism that detracts from consensus about the best way to get the business done in BDBC.”
Despite the obstacles, the report stated: “The council demonstrates strong leadership, both politically and managerially. We saw excellent examples of members and officers working together to achieve positive outcomes, for example on town centre regeneration.”
However, certain issues, and in particular indecision about the future of the Manydown land, were highlighted as problems.
The experts said: “The chief executive appears to drive the economic agenda as the top priority for the council in securing longer term benefits for the residents. But his overall capacity is inevitably limited.
“The Peer Team feel that too much of his time is spent on ameliorating the adverse effects of the intractable governance of the council, and issues related to dealing with the poor behaviour of some members.”
The experts noted: “It must only be a matter of time before some officers and members decide that they find the current situation intolerable.
“We suggest it is the responsibility of SLT (senior leadership team) and the leadership of the political groups jointly to resolve to sort out the current culture.
“The improvement of relations between members and officers, and member to member, is a priority for the council.
“Clarification of roles will only go so far in achieving this goal. Party discipline will need to be exercised to challenge poor behaviour. These actions need to be visible and consistent.”
A letter containing a summary of the Peer Challenge Team’s findings was sent to Mr Curtis in January, and it has been distributed to all 60 councillors.
When The Gazette – which has obtained a copy of the summary report – asked council leader Cllr Sanders for a comment on the Peer Challenge Team’s findings, he said: “We (councillors) all agreed that we would keep it within the council until we had a proper chance to discuss it.
“It is sensible that we have proper consideration of it before we go public. It was always going to be published, and it was never the intention to keep it a secret.”
He added that a meeting involving leaders of the political groups and the independent forum will hopefully take place on Monday.
Chief executive Mr Curtis said: “It was agreed that the report would be published after it has been discussed between senior officers, the leader and political group leaders.
“That meeting was due to have taken place in early February but was delayed because of the flooding issues.”
A council insider told The Gazette: “This report is a bit of a wake-up call for some members, who clearly need to look at their behaviour. It also shows that holding four-yearly elections is a viable suggestion that deserves serious consideration.”