In what has been branded an ‘anti-democratic retrograde step’, the newly-elected Conservative administration of B&NES Council has announced the abolition of the role of Member Champion.
Member Champions have previously been back bench Councillors who acted as an advocate and representative for particular interests or issues, raising awareness, offering advice and working with the community.
Examples of previous Member Champions include David Martin as Member Champion for Energy and Climate Change and Nigel Roberts as Member Champion for Cycling.
Councillor Nigel Roberts (Lib Dem, Odd Down) commented: “This is an extremely disappointing and retrograde move by the new Conservative administration.
“The role of Member Champion might seem minor, but it has allowed back bench Councillors a platform to promote issues which are important to residents.
“It has also given the Council administration the benefit of specific expertise from Councillors outside the Cabinet.
“Under the Liberal Democrat administration, Member Champions were able to contribute to the development of Council policy and help move things along.
“An excellent example is my former colleague David Martin, whose work as Member Champion for Energy and Climate Change contributed to the Council’s Energy@Home scheme and ground-breaking partnership with Bath and West Community Energy amongst many other environmentally-friendly initiatives.
“Member Champions did not receive an allowance, so it is hard to understand the rationale for getting rid of this useful role unless it is to restrict opposition councillors’ access to information and opportunities to speak up.
“By taking this anti-democratic step, the Conservative administration is saying there is no role for back bench and opposition Councillors to work through Council channels.
“Back in 2007, the first actions of the then Conservative administration were to clamp down on democratic processes, including cutting public meetings, moving decision-making behind closed doors and reducing roles for back bench Councillors.
“This was seen at the time as a ‘retreat to the Guildhall’. Now it seems that history is repeating itself.”