Row breaks out over council's 'hokey cokey' rule change

Great Yarmouth Town Hall. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

Great Yarmouth Town Hall. Pictures: Brittany Woodman - Credit: Archant

A row broke out at Great Yarmouth Borough Council (GYBC) on Thursday over plans to change how the authority makes decisions.  

The argument was about a promise made in the ruling Conservative group’s 2019 election manifesto to bring GYBC into line with every other Norfolk council in terms of how power is wielded. 

Unlike the rest of the county’s authorities, GYBC uses a committee system of governance.

This means that decisions are made by committees, with the membership of each proportionate to the number of councillors elected from each party.

But the Conservatives had promised to take the council back to a cabinet system, which GYBC had been using until 2016.

Under that system, used by most English authorities, power is held by the majority party, with the leader hand-picking a cabinet to drive forward various policies. 

At Thursday's meeting, council leader Carl Smith put forward a motion to have the change brought in after the 2023 local elections - but he sparked outcry from the Labour group, who opposed the idea. 

Councillor Carl Smith, deputy leader of Great Yarmouth Borogh Council. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

The change was proposed by Conservative council leader Carl Smith - Credit: Archant

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The council’s Labour opposition leader Trevor Wainwright said the idea was “a vanity project, [and] a distraction from the big issues facing the residents of the borough, such as the cost of living crisis”.

Councillor Tony Wright, the borough’s former Labour MP, went further saying the cabinet system leads to “what I can only describe as a dictatorship”.

Tony Wright speaking at the unveiling of a blue plaque to mark the 30th anniversary of Crimestoppers

Labour councillor and former MP Tony Wright. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

Labour councillor Kerry Robinson-Payne pointed out that the council’s current committee system was voted for by the council’s UKIP group in 2015 - some of whose members now sit in the authority’s Conservative group. 

Great Yarmouth Borough Council elections 2015.
Local ward votes being counted for the Great Yarmout

Labour councillor Kerry Robinson-Payne - Credit: James Bass

She asked: “Has the democratic structure that they so believed in and voted for not been successful enough?

“It’s like the hokey cokey, you put your purple arm in and your blue arm out.” 

But Conservative councillor Paul Wells responded: "We are purely doing what we told the residents of Great Yarmouth we were going to do - so I don't understand this belief that this is undemocratic.

Paul Wells, chairman of Great Yarmouth Borough Council's environment committee

Conservative councillor Paul Wells - Credit: Great Yarmouth Borough Council

"In my personal view, the cabinet system is far superior in terms of getting change and driving through the policies that a party is elected on."

He added that the council would "be able to do far more to address the cost of living crisis" under the cabinet system. 

The change was voted through by majority.