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Councillors silenced at cabinet meeting speak out

The leader of the council received a backlash from the opposition when he refused to let them speak at a virtual cabinet meeting last Thursday.

Councillors were upset not to have their say on a report on the future of children’s centres in the borough, which considered the outcome of an adults, children and health overview and scrutiny panel meeting held on Thursday, May 14.

The scrutiny meeting had seen councillors informed that a decision made by cabinet on April 30 to accept a report proposing the closure of multiple children’s centres in the borough in favour of a hub-based model was lawful.

But the panel agreed to send the report back to cabinet, requesting more clarity on the matter.

After the report was presented at Thursday’s cabinet meeting, council leader Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and Walthams) said: “I think it’s fair to say that there was a robust and rigorous debate at scrutiny committee.”

He added: “A revised version of this paper will be coming back before cabinet in due course so with those considerations in mind I’m now proposing to move the recommendation to the vote.”

When the democratic services officer, David Cook, told the Royal Borough’s leader that councillors had indicated they wished to speak, Cllr Johnson said: “Given the fact that a further paper will be coming back before public cabinet for discussion, and indeed debate on the recommendation, at this stage I am minded to press forward with the recommendation, and the vote, and proceed on that basis.”

Cabinet members then voted to ‘set aside’ the original decision to allow amendments.

The move prompted opposition councillors to criticise Cllr Johnson on Twitter.

Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) tweeted: “They have had to withdraw a paper closing children centres and youth clubs because it was an unsafe decision.

“And now they are refusing to let us speak at meetings!”

Cllr Lynne Jones (OWRA, Old Windsor) posted a statement of what she had intended to say at Thursday’s meeting on Twitter.

Part of it reads: “While I appreciate the intent was to carry out a further consultation regarding children’s centres and youth services, the original paper and its schedule did not allow for this.”

Speaking to the Advertiser, she said she believed the scrutiny meeting which reviewed the original cabinet decision was “fudged because they didn’t want to say they made a mistake”.

She added: “As a council if we make mistakes, we ought to just say we’ve made a mistake, that’s it, we should acknowledge it, say we’re going to put it right and say how we’re going to put it right.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” she said.

“That’s the whole point of scrutiny.”

She added that the scrutiny process, especially for ‘big complicated papers like this’, needs to be included at a much earlier stage ‘because it makes better decision making’.

Cllr Johnson responded to his critics on Twitter. He said: “We’ve never been more transparent and you will have full opportunity to scrutinise the revised report, attend cabinet and ask questions. Scrutiny [has] never been more effective.”

He was unavailable for further comment at the time of going to press.

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