Call for scrutiny of Lancashire County Council's Covid decision-making powers

Opposition parties at Lancashire County Council have repeated a call for more scrutiny of decisions taken as part of the authority’s response to the pandemic.

Monday, 19th October 2020, 7:42 pm
Updated Monday, 19th October 2020, 7:46 pm

The Labour and Liberal Democrat groups also want more consultation with councillors over the way in which emergency powers are being used to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Back in March, powers were delegated to officers to enable them to take decisions quickly in the face of the fast-moving situation – bypassing some elements of the normal democratic process.

The measures were revised in August, giving County Hall’s chief executive, executive directors and director of resources the authority “to take any decision on behalf of the cabinet necessary to urgently address or mitigate outbreaks of Covid-19”.

Lancashire County Council officers have been given greater powers during the pandemic

The power is subject to the action being one which can lawfully be delegated to officers – and provided attempts have been made to consult the council’s leader, deputy leader or relevant cabinet member.

Liberal Democrat group leader David Whipp told a meeting of the full council that while he had “full confidence” in officers, the arrangements risked leading to a “democratic deficit”.

He called for “regular meetings so that all county councillors are aware of what is going on, are able to have an input and hopefully able to influence the decisions that are taken on the ground.”

Labour group leader Azhar Ali acknowledged that members had received Covid briefings from chief executive Angie Ridgwell, but said that was no substitute for scrutiny.

“It’s not good enough for a democratic organisation that there is a lack of engagement and transparency at the very highest levels – especially when the leader is engaging with government officials,” County Cllr Ali said.

He also demanded the formation of a cross-party Covid group chaired by Conservative county council leader Geoff Driver.

However, County Cllr Driver dismissed the call for “more meetings” and said he was satisfied that the emergency decision-making system was as a democratic as possible.

“It’s absolutely vital that we’re in a position where we can make decisions quickly – if we don’t …then on some occasions we have actually wasted an opportunity.

“Council agreed to change the delegation scheme so that officers are able to make the decisions in consultation with their portfolio holder – and I think we are doing a really good job in terms of dealing at pace with the decisions that come our way.

“If County Cllr Whipp wants a debate, he could put down a notice of motion or raise a question at the council – he has done neither of those things today, so I suspect a little bit of political mischief-making going on there,” County Cllr Driver said.