Council veterans fear loss of democracy

Two veteran councillors launched a fierce attack on the state of local democracy yesterday as they stepped down after more than two decades.Council chairman Roy Rudling and mayor of Thetford Thelma Paines have served on Breckland Council for a combined total of 52 years but are not standing for the district in the May elections.

Two veteran councillors launched a fierce attack on the state of local democracy yesterday as they stepped down after more than two decades.

Council chairman Roy Rudling and mayor of Thetford Thelma Paines have served on Breckland Council for a combined total of 52 years but are not standing for the district in the May elections.

They were both bitterly critical of the modern cabinet system - warning that it had stifled “healthy debate” and left the bulk of members without understanding of or input in to council decisions.

Mrs Paines said that after 24 years representing the Abbey ward in Thetford she had “had enough”, citing inadequate public consultations, censorship of town and village members at planning meetings and the overruling of town councils by the district.

She said: “One of the major reasons for declining numbers of district, town and parish council candidates is the pernicious cabinet scrutiny system imposed by central government.

“It leaves the bulk of councillors unaware of the reasons why decisions are being made.”

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Mr Rudling, 70, added: “The cabinet system is more limited, it is supposed to be much faster but I think it has led to less healthy debate and has taken away the fun of the job.”

At Breckland's full council meeting yesterday, the council leader William Nunn paid warm tribute to Mr Rudling, who was first elected as councillor for Watton in 1979, calling him the “grandfather of this house”.

Other members stepping down this May are John Carrick who represented the Swanton Morley ward, Earl Cathcart who represented the Upper Wensum ward, Ray Key who represented the Saxon ward in Thetford and David Wickham, who represented Watton.