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‘Self-congratulatory and sycophantic’ - council’s virus response criticised

PUBLISHED: 14:45 01 June 2020 | UPDATED: 14:45 01 June 2020

Breckland Council and its leader Sam Chapman-Allen have been criticised for using the pandemic as an excuse to remove scrutiny. Picture: Breckland Council/Ian Burt

Breckland Council and its leader Sam Chapman-Allen have been criticised for using the pandemic as an excuse to remove scrutiny. Picture: Breckland Council/Ian Burt

Breckland Council/Ian Burt

A council has been criticised for using the coronavirus crisis as an “excuse to remove scrutiny”.

Timothy Birt, Green Party councillor for Saham Toney. Pic: Green Party.Timothy Birt, Green Party councillor for Saham Toney. Pic: Green Party.

Breckland Council is said to have limited opportunities for opposition councillors to weigh in on decisions, due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The accusation came after the council’s scrutiny chairman warned that oversight had been changed.

Timothy Birt, Green Party councillor for Saham Toney, said the council’s pandemic response had been “somewhat mediocre”.

The council held its first virtual meeting on Monday, June 1, which saw the cabinet discuss the financial impact of the crisis.

Bill Borrett, Conservative councillor for Upper Wensum. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.Bill Borrett, Conservative councillor for Upper Wensum. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

And commenting on a report on the authority’s response, Mr Birt said: “There’s a bit of sycophantic, self-congratulation in that document. The message is that it’s Breckland Council handing out money but this is implementation of a national policy. Our response has been somewhat mediocre.”

READ MORE: Will lockdown rules impact local democracy and accountability of our councils?

He added: “There is one area where we have badly fallen down. Breckland has a reputation for being poor at scrutiny.

“It looks like Covid-19 has been an excuse to remove scrutiny. The monitoring officer said at the moment it’s not a priority to respond to complaints.

“Where has scrutiny gone?”

Rhodri Oliver, scrutiny chairman, previously said: “There are still checks but it’s fair to say that we’re not doing it in a formal scrutiny meeting.”

READ MORE: Virtual council meeting held to decide not to hold virtual council meetings

But the council leader defended the authority’s actions.

Sam Chapman-Allen said: “I don’t think it’s us sitting here patting ourselves on the back. You had the ability to call in delegated decisions through the chairman of the scrutiny committee.

“For me, as the leader of the council, I sought consensus from my cabinet. I met with them before any decisions were made.”

And the Conservative member for Forest Ward added: “This isn’t for us to sit here and scrutinise what has occurred. That will come over the next days, weeks and months. There will be ample opportunity to scrutinise and it is right and proper to make sure we are fit for purpose and learn the lessons. But that day is not today.”

Bill Borrett, Conservative member for Upper Wensum, said he felt Mr Birt’s comments were “misjudged” and struck “absolutely the wrong tone”.

He added: “I think everybody has given 110pc and I’ve been very impressed with the response Breckland Council has managed.”

READ MORE: ‘Not a decision which has been taken lightly’ - council scraps meetings and puts power in hands of select few


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