At the recent meeting of Basildon Council's Staffing Matters and Review Sub-committee (until recently the only committee that was able to meet under the lockdown restrictions), the Administration proposed the creation of a Covid-19 Response Policy Review and Development Working Group. In the absence of the ability of most of the Council's committees to meet since mid-March, the Administration has been operating using the Urgent Decision Procedure Rules provided under the Council's Constitution and the purported purpose of the working group is to look at how all this has worked. The Conservative Group, however, has expressed reservations about the way the Administration is seeking to go about viewing this matter.
The Leader of the Opposition, Cllr Andrew Baggott, asked a number of questions at the meeting of the Sub-committee about the necessity and usefulness of setting up a working group. As 'working groups' meet behind closed doors, without any published agenda or minutes, the Conservative Group feels that it lacks transparency and openness. It would have no executive powers, so any recommendations for change would need to come before a full committee in any case (most likely the Policy and Resources Committee). It smacks of a talking shop. Having not been satisfied by the explanations offered by the Leader of the Council, the Conservative Group has chosen not to participate in the group.
With the new Regulations now in place to enable the Council committees to resume their normal work, the Conservative Group will be carrying these matters forward via the resumed service committees, which are minuted and live webcast. We believe this is the proper democratic framework in which to hold the Administration to account, rather than paying lip-service to a talking-shop meeting behind closed doors. We have therefore decided not to nominate any Conservative members to the group.
We are in the midst of a crisis and this has not been the time for politicians to be 'point scoring' or taking potshots at the Administration. Like the Government in Westminster, the Administration of Basildon Council have been navigating the challenges we face as best they can. We have broadly supported many of the actions the Council has taken to support residents and keep essential services running and we applaud the hard work and dedication of Council officers. There will come a time, of course, when it will be appropriate for Conservative councillors to scrutinise some of the actions the Administration have taken in recent weeks. Once meetings resume, we will be enabled to do so openly and in public. We believe this is the right and proper way of going about it.