A Green councillor has lost her seat on a Bedford Borough Council committee following the defection of a Lib Dem councillor to the Conservatives.
And the Lib Dems were blasted at a meeting, with one councillor saying the move was designed to reduce the amount of scrutiny on Bedford’s Lib Dems by the Greens.
Early last month, Cllr Sarah Gallagher (Eastcotts Ward) left the LibDems and joined the ranks of the Conservatives.
At the time it was reported that she defected over what she said was the Bedford mayor’s unwillingness to listen to alternative views within his Lib Dems group.
Councillor Gallagher’s move meant the allocation of main committee places needed to be adjusted to meet the proportionality rules.
The new allocation was proposed at this week’s (Wednesday, December 1) Full Council meeting.
Councillor Ben Foley (Green, Castle Ward) said: “We have a ridiculous situation with this proposal, whereby, as a result of one of the Lib Dems councillors defecting to the Conservatives, the Lib Dems are minimizing the impacts on themselves by reducing the amount of scrutiny from Green councillors.
“While we currently have two seats on scrutiny committees and despite the only relevant change underlying this being that defection of a Lib Dems councillor to the Conservatives, they are now proposing to take away one of our seats from the scrutiny committee and give it to the Conservatives.
“There’s no doubt that the Conservatives do warrant extra places on the committee as a result of that defection, but there were alternatives that could have been taken,” he said.
“It feels rather like the Liberal Democrats would rather have scrutiny from the Conservatives than the sort of real scrutiny that they would get from a Green,” he added.
Councillor Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle Ward) said she was disappointed to lose her seat on the health scrutiny committee.
She said: “I found being on health overview really valuable, and I think it’s more important than ever that we do have scrutiny in terms of health [not just] because we’re in a pandemic, but because of all the changes that are happening to health services.
“I’m just really sorry to be losing the place I was at the briefing meeting yesterday mindful that I almost definitely wouldn’t be at the meeting itself.
“Greens do take scrutiny very seriously and I’m sorry that we’ve now only got one scrutiny place,” she added.
Cllr Graeme Coombes (Wilshamstead Ward), the leader of the Conservative Group, said councillor Bywater had been a very effective member of the health scrutiny panel.
“On a personal level, I will be sorry that she’s not on the committee,” he said.
“I’m not really known for pulling my punches councillor Foley, and you can be sure that I will be as robust as I always am in holding this administration to account,” he added.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter