How well will the Conservative councillors be scrutinised? That was the question left hanging in the air after the all-important scrutiny committee, which challenges the ruling group, was left in charge of a Conservative councillor.
One of the main positions of opposition in the Isle of Wight Council, chairman of the corporate scrutiny, went to Cllr Richard Hollis, a Conservative.
Voting took place at a virtual meeting of the full council on Wednesday, after the previous chair, Lib Dem Cllr Andrew Garratt, stood down.
Nominations to take his place came from all sides of the virtual chamber, with Island Independent Cllr Michael Lilley, Conservative Cllr Richard Hollis and Independent Members Group Cllr Karl Love all in the running.
Cllr Geoff Brodie, who has previously been critical of the corporate scrutiny committee, said the role is extremely important in local government and nominated Cllr Love who he said would be hardworking and get to the bottom of things. He said:
“I am very disappointed, frankly, in the way corporate scrutiny has been under this administration and I don’t blame the people who have been in the chair as they have been under enormous pressure from up high to conform.
“To be the chair you have to be a tough cookie — Cllr Dave Stewart [now leader of the council] was a pretty effective chair under the independent administration but I think it is important we retain the position for an opposition councillor.
“I am afraid to say there has been too much just agreeing with everything and applauding the leadership – not asking the relevant questions when there are so many to ask of this administration.”
Cllr Stewart, head of the ruling Conservative majority, said the committee is not about opposition but being a ‘critical friend’ and working with the cabinet and whole council, and nominated Cllr Hollis. He said:
“It is not about confrontation because scrutiny is a council post where whoever is in that position can do a good job for the Island community and I have no doubt Cllr Hollis would fulfil that role.”
However, Cllr Michael Murwill, now an independent Conservative councillor, pointed out a few years ago Cllr Stewart was saying what Cllr Brodie said. He said:
“I hope the leader has not changed his mind. But of course, he has since his last comment – prior to an election – which I think is the most important time to have opposition corporate scrutiny in place. To be a fair judge and a critical friend, not an enemy.”
The ex-chair of the committee Cllr Garratt gave his support to Cllr Lilley but said the weakness of scrutiny is the lack of resources given to it and hoped in the long term an administration would provide it with what it needed to ‘do its job right’. He said:
“I do believe it should be held by a member of the opposition group as it does provide reassurance to the public that the chair is even more likely to not be dancing to the tune of any political group.”
After going to the vote twice, with Cllr Love out of the running in the second round, Cllr Richard Hollis was given the role, with 21 councillors voting for Cllr Hollis and 16 votes for Cllr Lilley.
Earlier in the year, some councillors voted against reverse proportionality, which meant the Conservatives as the ruling party, have the majority on the corporate scrutiny committee, where opposition councillors previously outnumbered them.