For those fans of Conservative oathbreaking in Southend, it really was not a long wait for the first election pledge to go out of the window. In fact, it was literally the first act of Cllr John Lamb (CON – West Leigh) after he won the leadership of the council.
See? Item 3 on the agenda. After item 2, the election of the new leader, the Council was asked to approve the changes to the cabinet and the constitution, which was the expansion of the cabinet from seven roles to eight.
Now, the rumour my little birds have brought me is that this change was necessary after one of the backbench Conservative councillors threatened to jump ship to the Independent Party Group if they weren’t given a seat on the cabinet. Hence an extra position had to be created, to fend off a defection which would have robbed the Conservatives (Even with the support of UKIP – Ed) of a majority on the Council.
Whether this is true or not, it still amounts to a breach of an election promise made in the Southend Conservative manifesto for the local elections, which clearly states:
“We pledge to reduce the number of cabinet positions from 7 to 6 to reflect the reduction in the Senior Management Team.“
In a document that generally steers away from making many direct promises in favour of a lot of caveats and vagueries, this promise stands out.
But despite this, the very first act of the new Conservative administration was to do the opposite of what they had promised, to create “jobs for the boys” in order to keep a grip on power.
Now, Cllr Lamb’s response to this accusation was to say that cabinet members had taken a ten per cent pay cut to accommodate the new position. Which is…interesting. The leader of the council receives an allowance of £30,354, the deputy leader receives £15,611, and the six other cabinet members receive £10,841 each. This totals £111,002. if you reduce these by 10%, the leader’s allowance becomes £27,318.60, the deputy leader’s becomes £14,049.9, and the other six executive councillors’ becomes £9,756.90. This means a new total of £99,901.80, and an overall reduction of £11,100.20. This means that the extra place is paid for, but the pledge to cut the number — and therefore the cost — of the cabinet.
There are also other issues with expanding the cabinet. For one thing, the relative size of the executive next to the full council increases, increasing the power of the cabinet over the full council meant to hold it to account. For another, looking at the responsibilities under the different cabinet roles there’s a bit of a…shall we say, imbalance? One of them is very noticeably thin.
So there we go. On the first day of the new Conservative administration, the first promise has been broken. Start as you mean to go on, I suppose, but I predict the road to the next elections in 2018 will be paved with broken Tory promises.