The Labour chair of an influential York committee walked out of the meeting last night – saying it was ‘unlawful’.
Cllr Jonny Crawshaw was followed by two other Labour members in the row.
He accused other council groups of ‘gerrymandering’ the membership of York’s customer and corporate services scrutiny management committee.
Cllr Crawshaw said his committee is supposed to scrutinise the decisions of the Lib Dem-Green run council – but it has a built-in majority of councillors from those ruling parties.
He said “It is in my view, gerrymandering the committee membership – we give the impression of marking our own homework.
“We go against the spirit and the purpose of the legislation.
“And it puts me as the chair of this committee in a very difficult position, because I don’t feel comfortable with continuing with what I consider to be an unlawful committee.”
Why he walked out
The walk-out happened after Rosie Baker (Green) sent her apologies. Cllr Derek Wann (Lib Dem) was there as her substitute.
Cllr Crawshaw said: “As committee members will be well aware, I as the chair of this committee, have challenged this on a number of occasions, not least when it was put forward at annual council that the Liberal Democrats would take a fifth member of this committee as a permanent position.
“I’d like to remind everybody that this committee is bound by proportionality. And the proportion of the council is that the Liberal Democrat group has 21 members out of 47, which equates to 45% of the council.
“If we were to have five committee members, as Liberal Democrats, out of nine, that would equate to 55% of this committee, and it would be a voting majority on the council’s only statutory scrutiny committee.
“That is why the Labour group and myself as the chair of customer corporate services and scrutiny management has challenged that on a number of occasions.
“Now, the Greens took a place on this committee and that was on the understanding that they would be regular attendees of this committee, I have been written to by Councillor Baker in the last few days, who has made it clear that she does not expect to attend this committee on a regular basis, if at all.
“So we are back de facto to the same position that we were in prior to annual council with five sitting members of the Liberal Democrat group on this committee, and four other members.”
The meeting reopened after an adjournment. Council officers said their advice was that the meeting could continue as it was up to Cllr Baker to choose which councillor took her place as a substitute.
Cllr Crawshaw said it was his view is that this was just an opinion, and not legally binding.
“As chair of this committee I do not feel that this meeting is lawful,” he said.
“I therefore don’t feel comfortable to continue with this meeting as the chair of this committee and will be withdrawing and would invite any other members who similarly feel that this is not appropriate to continue in this way to also withdraw.”
With that he and two other Labour members left the room leaving the committe to find a new chair.
This is what the council officer told the meeting: “I would just like to confirm that the legal advice provided is that full council is in receipt of independent legal advice.
“As far as I’m concerned, this seat is allocated to the Green group, Councillor Baker (Green) has sent her apologies and asked for a substitute.
“And the position is that Councillor Wann (Lib Dem) is the approved substitute and that Councillor Baker is entitled to ask any member of the council to act as a substitute in her position.”
Councillor Edward Pearson, Liberal Democrat member of the customer and corporate services scrutiny management committee, commented:
“The childish antics of York’s Labour Group at last night’s meeting are an embarrassment to their party.
“Rather than discuss issues of vital importance to York’s residents, such as the progress of the vaccination programme, the potential impacts of long covid and the ongoing severe impact on the council’s finances, Councillor Crawshaw embarked on an obviously scripted, politically motivated stunt. In doing this Labour councillors are choosing to display their ongoing disregard for reality, legislation and common sense.
“Having such childish tantrums serve no purpose at all but delay the work councillors are elected to do.
“Following council officer advice, additional independent legal advice has been received from Bevan Brittan which is clear that the current membership of committees is perfectly legal and proper. Despite this information having been presented and shared multiple times over the last few months, Councillor Crawshaw continues to rely on legal opinion produced by Labour Party staff.
“Time and time again labour councillors forget they were elected to represent the residents of this city not to boost their ego with cheap publicity stunts. Our common priority ought to be working for our residents and the city. This is what members of all the other political parties in the city will continue to do; the invitation is still open for the Labour group to abandon their playground politics and join us.”