Really interesting session in the Council Chamber of Powys County Council today. Question under debate was who takes the decisions about reorganisation of secondary education in Powys, which includes the six secondary schools in Montgomeryshire, and the Newtown base of Coleg Powys. The proposition was that this decision was of such importance that it should be taken by all of the councillors, rather than just the Cabinet. It was proposed by the Conservatives, and supported by others, principally the Montgomeryshire Independents and Labour - plus a few others. The proposal lost 31-28. Several councillors did not attend - there being 73 of them.
From my constituency's perspective this is very interesting - in that the great majority of Montgomeryshire-based councillors voted for the proposal, while the great majority of Brecon and Radnorshire based councillors (with honourable exceptions) voted against - a real split in the county. This is going to cause much resentment if there is a public backlash against the decisions, (expected in November) which will now be taken by just the Cabinet members. I anticipate that the names of those who voted which way will be well featured in the media. Already I have heard two people tell me that they are so angry about what has happened that they are going to stand against cllrs who voted with the Cabinet in elections next May. It will be particularly difficult for cllrs with threatened schools in or adjacent to their wards who effectively voted to extinguish their right to involvement in the decision-making process.
Today's debate will have brought home to many cllrs what a Cabinet system means. They are realising that the power to decide now lies with the few who make up the Cabinet, and that the role of those who are not signed up to the 'administration' is to 'oppose' and 'scrutinise'. Since the Cabinet system was forced through by the Liberal Democrats and Powys Independents last year, I've not thought the 'opposition' to be remotely aggressive enough. Its only opposition councillors who are in a position to challenge the Cabinet, and if that's ineffective, we would have a dictatorship. Today was an important day - the coming of age of Cabinet government in Powys. Some will not like what they voted for last year.