Fears that Kirklees Council will soon be “marking its own homework” have been expressed as former leader, Cllr Shabir Pandor (Labour, Batley West), has been selected to chair the Growth and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel.
Opposition councillors at last night’s (November 15) Full Council meeting were outraged at the suggestion that the former leader of the council could chair the scrutiny panel. They argued that Cllr Pandor would be scrutinising decisions and policies that we made during his time in post as leader, with this defeating the object of scrutiny, being akin to marking your own homework.
The role of scrutiny within the council is to hold senior councillors and officers accountable for the decisions it makes and act as a “critical friend,” asking questions and providing challenges where necessary. Scrutiny makes recommendations, generally to the cabinet, in order to influence decisions.
When it comes to the Growth and Regeneration panel, matters relating to projects like the Huddersfield Blueprint, the George Hotel, and those relating to housing and skills will be discussed. Cabinet members do not sit on scrutiny panels.
At last night’s full council meeting, Labour made a U-turn on their previous nomination for the role. Originally the group had put Denby Dale ward councillor, Hannah McKerchar, up for the Chair position to take the place of the previous chair, Cllr Moses Crook (Holme Valley South), who has recently become a Cabinet member. However, the group announced at the meeting that they were proposing Cllr Pandor instead.
In response to this shocking announcement, the Leader of the Lib Dem group, Cllr John Lawson, asked the meeting: “Is it appropriate that an ex-leader of the authority should be the chair of scrutiny on policies that he was responsible for bringing forth?”
Other opposition councillors spoke out against the proposal. Cllr Richard Smith (Con, Kirkburton) said: “To be quite honest with you, this is not right. Every decision that this is going to scrutinise is something that was done under your watch – you were the longtime leader of this council.
“The blueprints and every major decision that this council has taken, you were at the helm of the council and you know as well as I do, you cannot scrutinise your own homework. You know very well that this is inappropriate so do the right thing.”
Cllr Smith then proposed Cllr John Taylor (Con, Kirkburton) as an alternative due to his experience serving on scrutiny, being the former chair of a scrutiny panel. Cllr Smith added: “As the administration, marking its own homework is just not the right thing to be doing.”
Labour’s Cllr Will Simpson (Denby Dale) defended the group’s nomination and said: “This is entirely constitutional. As we all know, Cllr Pandor is not a member of the administration, he’s currently a backbencher. He’s been a very capable councillor for many years and I think, in fact, is uniquely placed to scrutinise the work that officers are doing so we have full support for Cllr Pandor’s nomination.”
Cllr Tony McGrath (Con, Holme Valley North) who had seconded Cllr Taylor’s nomination said: “The minute you start to scrutinise your own work, you do have to question whether scrutiny is fit for purpose and while I know it’s a majority council, I’d like to think that some of the reasons he’s no longer leader may be the reason you shouldn’t have him running scrutiny.”
The 30 members of the Labour group who were in attendance voted for Cllr Pandor’s appointment and 15 Conservatives, for Cllr Taylor. This means that Cllr Pandor will become the new chair of the Growth and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel.