Observer Comment: Could council restructure undermine democratic process?

THE DEVELOPMENTS at Hastings Borough Council this week mark a stark new era for our local government.

In a drastic bid to save money, council leader Jeremy Birch devised a plan to get rid of the chief executive role and replace it with a team of three senior directors.

On face value it sounds like a positive step forward, lowering costs and improving the democratic process.

But what the electorate of this town must understand is that the council leader can now play a key part in the decisions taken at corporate level.

When the three directors cannot reach a decision, Cllr Birch will be responsible for ‘reconciling any differences within the team’.

This means an elected member of a political group can have a direct influence on council policy and procedure.

So if the directors cannot decide on an important funding issue for example then Cllr Birch could help them make their minds up.

For all Cllr Birch’s good intentions and ambitions to make the working processes smoother and more transparent, the public could interpret his new role as interference or the blurring of positions.

No matter how much money can be saved, it can never be good working practice for any leader of a council to play any role in corporate council procedures.

The role of a council leader is to lead the authority through political means only.

Nobody can question Cllr Birch’s integrity or commitment to the cause.

But there will be many questions asked in the future about why certain decisions were made and why the council leader had to get involved.

In any corporate organisation the size of a council, there has to be a hierarchy system with one person at the top who is in overall control and ultimately held accountable.

Having a politician involved in the day-to-day running of any local authority not only undermines those professionals paid to do their jobs in the first place but also the very essence of a democratic process.

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WHEN a young man is inspired to write poetry and design poppies for Remembrance Day, it shows the true depth of support for our boys in Afghanistan.

Anthony Jane, 23, was so moved by the plight of British soldiers abroad he was determined to do his bit to remember them.

So he painstakingly created 563 individual poppies each with the name of the British soldier killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He then delicately wrapped them around a huge tree in Alexandra Park for last Sunday’s Remembrance Day tribute.

Anthony also displayed a painting of a giant poppy marked with the words of his poignant poem.

He now wants to sell his handiwork to raise money for the Poppy Appeal.

A selfless, simple act with a powerful message. We will remember them.