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Outgoing opposition leader warns Lichfield District Council needs to value scrutiny after debate on decision to spend £300,000 on car park after Friarsgate failure

Councillors have been told to focus on scrutiny rather than political rivalries after a debate around the decision to spend £300,000 on a car park refurbishment in the wake of the Friarsgate failure.

The Birmingham Road car park. Pic: Google Streetview
The Birmingham Road car park. Pic: Google Streetview

The decision was called in by Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the Labour opposition group at Lichfield District Council, over concerns about the decision to commit the money without a full examination of the spending.

A specially-arranged debate took place last night (4th April), but Cllr Woodward admitted she was disappointed to hear continual references to the spending being a “no-cost” option.

The money is coming from a sinking fund set up to replace the Birmingham Road multi-storey, which would have been demolished had Friarsgate gone ahead.

Cllr Sue Woodward, Leader of the Opposition at Lichfield District Council, has said that the Council has a long way to go to understand the value of proper scrutiny of council proposals and decisions. 

Cllr Sue Woodward
Cllr Sue Woodward

“The Cabinet report left many questions hanging in the air,” said Cllr Woodward. “As did what passed for the debate at the Cabinet meeting.

“The proposal had not gone through any scrutiny prior to the decision being made. I thought it should have and so challenged it via the call in process.

“Some district councillors though simply do not understand what scrutiny is all about and this was especially evident at last night’s meeting with its barracking and constant mutterings of complaint from some quarters.

“Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to test the arguments for the spending and to understand the reasons behind it, there were those who were intent upon making it adversarial with some members seeing it as a ‘bash-the-opposition’ session.

“Just because they have the large numbers of votes in council doesn’t mean they’re always right and, let’s face it, not all of the council’s decisions have met with public approval either.”

Cllr Woodward has also confirmed she will be one of a dozen councillors who will not seek re-election in May.

But she said the future leadership of the council needed to understand the benefit of hearing alternative views from both opposition councillors and its own backbenchers.

She said: “I’m grateful to the committee chairman, Cllr Richard Cox, for reinforcing the value of proper scrutiny by all backbenchers, not just opposition members, and for his comments that the questions were entirely justified.

“I really do hope that the new council will take its scrutiny responsibilities and its responsibilities for openness and transparency more seriously.”

Cllr Woodward will continue to represent Burntwood North at county council level until the elections in 2021.

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3 Comments

  1. Colin Ball

    3rd April, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Good on you, Sue. I was at that Cabinet meeting with you, when the original decision was made and could not believe the perfunctory manner with which the Cabinet Members dealt with it. I was also glad to be at the Overview and Scrutiny meeting on Monday evening, to ask some of the questions that I felt the Cabinet Members should have asked a few weeks ago. What I hadn’t expected was the barracking and muttering from some Tory members of the Committee, who, as you say, don’t seem to understand the meaning and value of scrutiny. I was very glad to have Richard Cox chairing the meeting, who ensured that we dealt with this matter properly, made sure we all had a fair hearing and that we sent out a clear message to the Cabinet that they need to take their responsibilities seriously and be seen to be doing so and ensure proper debate and scrutiny at Cabinet intself, rather than just nodding things through.

    Colin Ball – Labour Party Lichfield City and District Councillor for Curborough – and prospective candidate for both again in May elections.

  2. Alfred Walker

    4th April, 2019 at 11:06 am

    I was also at the meeting on Monday evening as a member of the public and was most surprised at the muttering and comments being made while other committee members were trying to ask questions and to my dismay one of the biggest culprits was the leader of the council,

  3. Nodge

    4th April, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    “Cllr Woodward has also confirmed she will be one of a dozen councillors who will not seek re-election in May.”
    This is sad news, Sue will be missed greatly. She’s consistently been one of the loudest voices calling out the Tories and their repeated scandals.