York’s council leaders have been accused of acting undemocratically – and one councillor’s integrity has been placed under question.
Labour councillors slammed the Liberal Democrat / Green administration “in order to make a case for upholding democratic processes in our city”.
Cllr Jonny Crawshaw apologised to guests assembled for the York mayor making ceremony on Friday. But said the issue was “too important” as he criticised the appointments of councillors to key committees, which all passed a vote regardless.
Cllr Crawshaw said: “In previous years this has been largely uncontentious, because no matter the political makeup of the administration, there has been an understanding that trust, fairness and decency are important values in a healthy democracy.
“Not so anymore – it would seem whether in Westminster or West Offices we seem to live in a world where political expediency is king.”
The Labour group say it is unfair that the Green Party are allowed to nominate a Liberal Democrat councillor as a substitute on committees, rather than someone from their own party, as it gives the Liberal Democrats a majority when they don’t have one on the council as a whole.
Previously, this had only been the case on the customer and corporate services scrutiny management committee, but under the latest changes, it will also apply on several other key committees, including the audit and governance committee.
“When the council’s own legal advice makes clear that such arrangements might reasonably be considered to be contrary to the spirit and purpose of the legislation, one has to question the integrity of those who are complicit,” Cllr Crawshaw told the meeting.
He said the changes allowed council leader, Cllr Keith Aspden, to “engineer situations where he will never lose a vote” on some committees.
He said this was particularly damaging when considered alongside the public interest report that was issued to the council last year relating to the exit of former council chief executive, Mary Weastell.
The Labour group also voted against the appointments to both main planning committees due to a “public incident” involving a councillor.
Labour leader Cllr Claire Douglas said: “A member named on the committees called into question their belief in the impartiality and integrity of decision making on City of York planning committees and the committee members.
“We believe this person’s membership of the committee is untenable. I have asked the member’s group leader to replace the appointment with another member and this has been refused.”
Cllr Douglas did not name the councillor, but the incident is understood to relate to comments made by Liberal Democrat councillor Tony Fisher posted in the comments section of the York Press website.