Cracks showing in Warwick District Council after recommendations squabbled over for more than an hour and a half
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Cracks in the cross-party working at Warwick District Council appear to be widening with a pair of recommendations squabbled over for more than an hour and a half on Wednesday.
A meeting of all councillors was adjourned towards the end of last month after the debate over the council moving customer services to the Pump Rooms, Leamington, in place of an art shop, saw it run over.
It was reconvened this week prior to a meeting of cabinet – the team of Green and Labour councillors in charge – but in a similar way to the Pump Rooms debate, political battle lines were drawn, dragging out the discussion of a single item that seemed a simple one on paper.
May’s local elections saw no party command a majority but a tough time for the Conservatives, who had led the previous cabinet, saw the Greens established as the biggest party.
By making a pact with Labour, they had the numbers to take charge with public commitments to try to continue the cross-party working that was roundly heralded as a triumph of the last administration.
However, opposition leaders from the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives claim their ideas are now being shut out. Green and Labour insist that is not the case and that their opponents are simply playing politics.
The latest issue was around a two-pronged recommendation from Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Alan Boad (Leamington Lillington) to reaffirm the council’s declaration of the climate and ecological emergencies and to look into the formation of a dedicated advisory committee to focus on them.
Like the Pump Rooms debate, he called for rules that dictate councillors can only speak once to be suspended but again, the vote on that went along party lines and the move was defeated.
A third version on the council’s position on the climate emergency was unanimously accepted after nearly half an hour of thrashing out the wording, something Councillor Lowell Williams (Green, Kenilworth Park Hill) said had left him “very embarrassed”
“Why don’t we move on, let’s act like grown-ups and get on with running the council, please,” he said.
“I am not quite sure how this is playing out on YouTube but I am getting very embarrassed about my role in it so can I suggest we just vote for those words.”
Green and Labour later voted down consideration of a dedicated cross-party group, arguing it would add an unnecessary and bureaucratic layer to work already being done by the cabinet.
They were accused of “arrogance” by those on the opposition benches who wanted to look into establishing a committee that would have more time to take properly consider climate issues in the district and call on experts in meetings held in public.
Cllr Boad said: “We are being accused of grandstanding following the previous debate. Actually, we are trying to help, to challenge and to try to get this committee working again as a collaborative council – it is not going that way, the signs are not good at the moment.”
Leader Councillor Ian Davison (Green, Leamington Brunswick) said a strategic plan was coming forward from the new administration with climate figuring “strongly in these strategic goals”, including a priority on reducing carbon emissions and energy bills.
“I really hope all councillors will engage and challenge our proposals to make them stronger,” he said.
“This proposed new advisory body would be more bureaucratic, take more officer time and tries to cover too much. Deep dives are better than floating over numerous technical policy areas.
“It also precludes policy development without the public. Allowing safe, private discussion avoids political grandstanding and encourages the bouncing around of ideas without worrying that words will be construed as commitments.”
His predecessor, Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Day (Bishop’s Tachbrook), was scathing.
“Once again what we are hearing is that the administration has all the answers, they don’t listen or engage the experts that reside in our community,” he said.
“All we are asking is that this matter be investigated. Is there some form of arrogance, that side of the house has all the answers so you won’t even look at the alternatives?
“You closed down debate again tonight, again we have to have our individual say. It just smacks of yet more control."
Referring to how matters were handled prior to the last administration, Cllr Day later said: “I was in that council, too, Councillor Davison. You and I used to make a joke about everyone going to their corners, putting up their hands, it could have been the politburo. But it looks a lot like that right now, Ian.
“We have to find some middle ground or we are going to have four-hour council meetings every time we get together, there will be recorded votes, the officers will go bananas, we will waste a lot of resources.”