Arun District Council ‘well prepared’ for governance system change

A row over the pros and cons of Arun District Council’s imminent switch to a new way of governance has flared up again.

In May, the council will move from the current cabinet system to a committee-based system.

The change has prompted heated debate over the past couple of years, with some feeling it will be a more democratic way of working, while others see it as a mistake.

That debate continued at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday (March 24) where reports were received about the necessary changes to the constitution.

Arun Civic Centre. Pic Steve Robards SR2103252 SUS-210326-165356001

While leader Dr James Walsh said the council was ‘well-prepared’ for the change in governance, Shaun Gunner (Con, Rustington East) and others questioned whether some councillors even understood how the new system worked.

Grant Roberts (Con, Arundel & Walberton) sits on a cross-party working party set up to explore the constitutional changes.

He told the meeting: “It’s very, very rushed. People don’t understand it, we still haven’t had a seminar on it and I worry about moving to the future governance style, particularly with the lack of scrutiny.”

Mr Roberts was referring to the decision to not include a scrutiny committee in the new make-up, instead opting to use full council meetings as a way to scrutinise decisions and make recommendations.

Other Tory councillors were equally as scathing.

Jacky Pendleton (Con, Middleton-on-Sea) felt the speed of decision-making would be compromised under the new system and the council would ‘live to regret’ its choice.

Andy Cooper (Con, Angmering & Findon) likened the council’s situation to a creek, adding ‘we’re all travelling down it and we don’t have a paddle’.

Dr Walsh reminded the meeting that, just over a year ago, the Tory group had tried to change the starting date from May 2021 to May 2020.

Saying he didn’t understand the ‘sudden about face’, he added: “Let’s be sensible about this.

“We’ve taken an extra year. There’s been plenty of opportunity, there is going to be a full member seminar to explain this and, if extra training is needed, there will be extra training for potential chairmen and vice-chairmen of the new committees, all of which will make it work.

“Staff members and officers have already been well briefed on it and introduced to the workings of this new system

“So we are going to be well-prepared to bring it in in May.”

Chief executive Nigel Lynn told the meeting that the senior management team had been through two training sessions and some 70-80 officers had received training.

Two new members of staff have been taken on to help with the system

Mr Lynn added: “I think there will be learning curves and there will be things we have to tinker with as we go along but we believe that the officer side of things are in a very good position at the moment.”

The new system will come into effect at the annual council meeting on May 19.

The council will have to wait for five years if it wants to change back.