Tories under fire over rule changes

Tories in Norfolk have come under fire for rewriting council rules to give them control of powerful scrutiny committees.Less than a month after the Conservatives swept to power in large parts of Norfolk, both Breckland and South Norfolk have backed rule changes allowing them to hand the chairmanships to their own supporters.

Tories in Norfolk have come under fire for rewriting council rules to give them control of powerful scrutiny committees.

Less than a month after the Conservatives swept to power in large parts of Norfolk, both Breckland and South Norfolk have backed rule changes allowing them to hand the chairmanships to their own supporters.

Tories in Broadland also considered the move, but have opted instead for a tweak which will enable them to give the vice-chairmanship to one of their number. The chairmanship is decided on a free vote, which previously saw the role go to a member of the smaller Independent group instead of the larger opposition Liberal Democrats. And that looks set to happen again when the council meets on Tuesday.

Yesterday, Breckland councillors unanimously backed the changes, which are likely to see Labour's Robin Goreham replaced by his Tory counterpart Philip Cowan.

While on Wednesday, Tories in South Norfolk, fresh from a stunning victory over the Lib Dems, approved a constitutional change which would allow their man, Christopher Kemp, to stay in post instead of reverting to the opposition, which is now made up of only seven councillors.

Mr Goreham, said: “Since the Conservatives had an emphatic majority at the elections, they are clearly no longer in the same magnanimous mood. In an ideal world it's best practice to invite somebody who is not part of the controlling group to chair the panel. However, it's perfectly legal what the Tories have done.”

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In South Norfolk, Murray Gray, Lib Dem group leader, urged the council to ensure the opposition always got the scrutiny job.

“This was accepted by the Conservatives in the last council, but now that it doesn't suit their purposes, they have reneged on the principle,” he said.

Breckland leader William Nunn said: “We feel that with this change there will be much better scrutiny. Other Conservative-run authorities have taken a similar view - we have consulted them and decided to do the same thing.”

South Norfolk leader John Fuller said the Lib Dems had been given a larger share of committee places than the current rules allowed for. Parish and town councils would also be given new powers to refer issues to the scrutiny committee.

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