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Political leaders give their views on borough council review findings
LAST week's exclusive coverage of a Peer Challenge Team's review of how Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has produced plenty of talking points.
Today, the Gazette asks the main political group leaders for their views on some of the key issues in the summary report - including criticism of the poor behaviour of some councillors, and a call for a switch to four-yearly elections.
Conservative group leader, Councillor Terri Reid
"I can see the advantages of switching to four-yearly elections. I think it is cutting the cost for our electorate, and I would be interested in what voters want to do about this. From a simple point of view, it would cut the cost of having elections three out of every four years, and it may improve voter turnout.
I think we need to think about it more, but there should be some form of consultation, and perhaps a referendum. It is an idea we should discuss more within the council and with the residents.
Generally, we are a very well-run council but it was really concerning that there are members of staff that are troubled by councillors' behaviour towards them.
I have witnessed a couple of occasions where it has happened, and it shouldn't. We are all aware and we have been taking steps to modify behaviour, and in general things are starting to improve.
We have discussed it within the group and I have had discussions with senior officers and have asked them to report any concerns to me about members. I haven't had any referrals so far and if I did I would have to take it further."
Labour group leader, Councillor Laura James
"As a Labour group, we are opposed to a switch to four-yearly elections. It would be bad for politics and bad for Basingstoke. We have looked at other councils around the country, and it is not healthy.
I think the current system is good. It keeps us in touch with the electorate and makes us accountable. If we left it every four years, it makes us less unaccountable.
We need to look at the real issues most people are facing - people don't have a bus service to get to work and into town.
I am not going to ask my members to behave differently - I am happy with how we behave as a group. I haven't had anyone say that a member of my team is behaving badly. The only thing we do is challenge and that's very much part of an opposition group's responsibility."
Liberal Democrat group leader, Councillor Gavin James
"I have some strong reservations about four-yearly elections because I don't think that will provide the solution. We need to get the Local Plan submitted, and once we know the shape of Basingstoke, we have to gather evidence from other councils to see if there are clear views on whether it (four-yearly elections) is better or worse.
I would be worried that some councillors would have four years to do as they please. I am not sure voters have a problem voting once a year. The public are quite happy to vote for people who will do the best job for them.
I don't think my group has any issues in terms of their behaviour, and I would be happy to hear from officers who have a problem with a Lib Dem councillor. All members of the group are aware of how the staff feel, and I would expect them to be respectful of things like how emails are sent. The public expect us to behave like grown-ups and do the best for our borough.
I think it (the borough council) has to take comments (regarding staff morale) seriously and approach them with an open mind, and the peer review resolves to get council staff comments reaching the top. That needs to happen on a consistent basis rather than ploughing on without fully involving them in the process."
Independent forum leader Councillor Martin Biermann
"I could say as recently as two years ago that if someone asked me to vote on four-yearly elections, I would have voted in favour. However, I have changed my mind back to where it was.
The reason is, if one gets an administration that's dragging its heels on a particular issue and won't accept public opinion and member opinion, and insiss on going their own way, the public has to wait four years to change the situation.
This current administration has excluded so many people - I wouldn't have enough faith to see this administration given a four-year run.
I accept the suggestion that some councillors in particular are not respectful to council officers, in particular in open committee, challenging officers' reports. It shouldn't be in a way that is impacting on the integrity of officers. It is clearly wrong.
I do think the senior leadership team seek to engage staff. There are quite a few members of staff who have shared in confidence with me suggestions that they feel there is talk but not intent.
It needs a conversation with the staff in terms of finding out problems. A way forward would be the opportunity for anonymous input into where the structure is failing. It is very difficult if you are not happy with how senior management is working."
You can read the full summary report of the Peer Challenge Team by clicking here. And if you want to have your say on any of the issues raised in the report, or on these two pages, write to The Letters Editor, The Gazette, Pelton Road, Basingstoke, RG21 6YD, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the comment box below.
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