New council set up will make it more democratic

ALL political parties on Scottish Borders Council will in future be involved in the decisions made by committees.

A new way of working, to increase accountability for all elected members, has been agreed by the council - three new committees will be established (social work and housing, education, and environment and infrastructure)and the scrutiny panel disbanded.

The way the council is set up at the moment the ruling group makes up the executive committee and the opposition group dominates scrutiny.

This system has been used by the council since 2001 but was seen by some as less democratic than the committee structure with representatives of all parties included.

In the new ‘scheme of administration’ three members of the opposition group will join the executive and the three committees will be made up of nine councillors, again including three from the opposition group.

Leader of SBC David Parker said: “We made it quite clear in our ‘Ambitious for the Borders’ partnership agreement that increasing the democratic accountability of elected members would be at the heart of our administration programme.

“The proposals that we have agreed will capture the best bits of the executive/scrutiny system but will also allow full elected member involvement in all of our decisions, before decisions are made.

“It is the most significant political change in the council since 2001 and all elected members will now have an opportunity to influence everything that we do, before decisions are made.

The council also agreed to establish five new area forums - Tweeddale, Eildon, Teviot and Liddesdale, Cheviot and Berwickshire. As well as elected councillors, the forums will have elected representatives from each community council in the forum area.

Councillor Parker added: “I believe that the new area forums will be a significant improvement to the way in which the council works with our communities.”

Deputy Leader John Mitchell said: “The SNP group has been committed to widening democracy within the council and it is well known and widely publicised that we wanted to ensure that all elected members of the council had a full say in the business of the authority.

Newly appointed Deputy Leader, Councillor Catriona Bhatia added: “Although the executive/scrutiny model had merits, it was clear to everyone that scrutiny was not effective enough and this has been something that other councils across the UK have recognised.

“In moving forward we are retaining an executive but giving opposition and backbench members more influence and a better opportunity to be involved in the council’s decision making.”