OPPOSITION councillors have blasted a decision taken by Tories in Rochford to ban them from calling in cabinet decisions.

Conservative councillors on Rochford District Council voted in favour of removing the right of ordinary councillors to refer decisions made by the cabinet to full council for further discussion.

The council, controlled by a Tory majority, operates a cabinet system – called the executive – made up of nine Conservative members who make decisions, either collectively or individually, on matters of policy and management.

Previously, any three ordinary members of the council could call in urgent decisions made at cabinet level, but, after losing the vote, by 20 to 11, they will no longer be able to do so.

Green councillor for Hullbridge ward, Michael Hoy, said: “This strikes at the heart of democracy and accountability.

“Members who failed to vote against the motion will not be trusted.”

The review committee, chaired by Mr Hoy, may still call in any decision made by the executive, but opposition members are concerned by the number of Conservatives on the committee.

Ron Oatham, Lib Dem councillor for Downhall and Rawreth, said: “The review committee is a toothless tiger.

“I will support to the death the suggestion we return to a democratic system.”

John Mason, opposition leader for the alliance between the Rochford District Residents Party and the Greens, agreed with Mr Oatham.

He said: “The majority political control on the reviewcommittee can be used to stop referrals in their tracks.

“I pledge that if and when the situation arises, I will give priority to working with others to remove the cabinet system.”

Toby Mountain, an independent conservative, and councillors for UKIP and Labour also spoke out strongly against the motion.

Leader of the council, Terry Cutmore, said the motion was made to make sure the council operates efficiently.

He said: “Whilst the constitution indicates referral should only be utilised in exceptional circumstances, the definition of this is open to interpretation.

“By far the majority of all executive decisions could potentially be referred up, this means the business of the Council could be significantly affected.

“A significant delay can have both cost and customer service implications.”

Vote's a disgrace, claim residents

THE public gallery was full at Tuesday’s meeting, with an audible level of displeasure at the evening’s proceedings.

Ironic laughter greeted comments from council leader Terry Cutmore and one member of the public was heard to say “it’s just not democracy”, after the motion on executive referrals was passed.

Chris Black, Lib Dem councillor for Downhall and Rawreth, even spoke out and questioned the standing of the council in the eyes of the public.

He said: “Over the years Rochford District Council has been a place of goodwill and respect.

“But in the past year, the respect of people in the district for the council has gone down and down.”

Gary Congram, Hullbridge historian, attended the meeting and said people were not happy with what they saw.

He said: “Every member of the public left the meeting saying ‘disgrace’, and ‘what is the point of voting when our voices cannot be heard?’”

How they all voted...

IN FAVOUR OF THE MOTION: Lesley Butcher (Hawkwell North), Terry Cutmore (Ashingdon and Canewdon), Robin Dray (Whitehouse), Heather Glynn (Hawkwell South), Keith Gordon (Rochford), John Griffin (Wheatley), Brian Hazlewood (Hockley Central), Jack Lawmon (Wheatley), Gillian Lucas-Gill (Rochford), June Lumley (Grange), Malcolm Maddocks (Hockley West), Jo McPherson (Hawkwell North), David Merrick (Lodge), Joan Mockford (Sweyne Park), Cheryl Roe (Rayleigh Central), Colin Seagers (Foulness and Great Wakering), Margaret Spencer (Rayleigh Central), Mike Steptoe (Barling and Sutton), Ian Ward (Lodge), Barbara Wilkins (Foulness and Great Wakering). All Conservative apart from Mrs Lumley (Lib Dem).

AGAINST THE MOTION: Chris Black (Downhall and Rawreth, Lib Dem), Jamie Burton (Grange, Ukip), Jerry Gibson (Rochford, Lab), John Hayter (Trinity, Ukip), Neil Hookway (Foulness and Great Wakering, Ukip), Diane Hoy (Hullbridge, Green), Michael Hoy (Hullbridge, Green), Christine Mason (Hawkwell West, RDR), John Mason (Hawkwell West, RDR), Toby Mountain (Sweyne Park, Independent conservative), Ron Oatham (Downhall and Rawreth, Lib Dem)

...and rebels lose fight over parking fees

THE ongoing saga of parking charges in the Rochford district has now drawn to a close.

Increased charges will come into force from Monday, meaning an hour’s parking in a Rochford District Council controlled car park will now cost £1, rather than 80p.

Nine opposition councillors tabledamotion to rescind the decision, made earlier this month, to increase the charges, but the vote was lost by 19 votes to 11 at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Toby Mountain, independent conservative councillor for Sweyne Park, said: “There has been a lack of transparency in the debate and decision-making process, the whole issue has been totally fudged from the start.”

The opposition claimed there was a lack of up-to-date financial information when the decision was made on July 1.

Yvonne Woodward, the council’s head of finance, justified the charges and said even with the increased charges, there will still be a budget shortfall.

She said: “We will still need to find £140,000 for the budget throughout this year.”

As previously decided, parking on a Saturday afternoon will remain free across the district.