Sefton’s Lib Dems have called for tougher scrutiny at the council to prevent “a Liverpool-style fiasco” happening in the borough.
Group leader Cllr John Pugh said last month’s damning Caller Report on failings at Liverpool City Council had lessons for authorities like Sefton where the ruling party was also in charge of the scrutiny committees supposed to hold it to account.
Cllr Pugh said: “Although I have no doubts about the personal integrity of post-holders in Sefton, this is simply not good practice.
“Every councillor in charge of scrutiny and supposed to be asking the ‘tough’ questions has the same party loyalty as the council leadership and may find it difficult to turn the spotlight on those making decisions at the top.
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“If they in turn want to become one of the highly paid cabinet members some day, it’s probably not advisable to be making waves.”
However, council leader Ian Maher said opposition councillors did not need to chair scrutiny committees as any three councillors could “call in” a decision they were concerned about and have it examined by a scrutiny committee.
Cllr Maher said: “Cllr Pugh simply fails to explain Sefton’s scrutiny procedures correctly in his public plea for a scrutiny chair role.
“All of Sefton’s councillors are notified of decisions that have been made and there is a subsequent period of time for all councillors to ‘call in’ any decision made, before enactment, to the relevant scrutiny committee. Any three councillors have this right.
“Should any three councillors, of any political party or independents, wish to call in a decision, it is their right to do so and it is then sent to and scrutinised by the relevant committee where the ‘call in’ councillors can attend and explain their concerns and reasons for the call in to the committee.”
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Cllr Maher added that the Lib Dem groups called in decisions “extremely rarely”, suggesting they were either happy with the decisions being made or “too lazy to read reports to know what is happening within the council”.
The row over scrutiny is set to continue next week when Cllr Pugh brings a motion to the full council meeting on April 22 calling for tougher scrutiny measures including allowing opposition councillors to chair scrutiny committees.
Cllr Pugh said: “In Parliament and in the best councils, the scrutiny committees are chaired by members of all parties to ensure transparency and openness. It’s a respected system.
“The same cannot be said of the Liverpool system which Sefton mirrors.
“We cannot be complacent about a Liverpool-style fiasco happening elsewhere in Merseyside which is why I want the council to toughen up scrutiny.”
His proposals mirror those made by Lib Dems in neighbouring Knowsley, where Labour also controls all the scrutiny committees as well as the council.