Senior councillors in Southend to be given power to make urgent decisions

Senior Southend councillors are set to be given the power to make urgent and important decisions – rather than council officers behind the scenes.

Tony Cox, leader of the council called for cabinet members to have the power to decide on issues without referring to directors.

At present urgent decisions are taken by officers under the previous Standing Order 46, (SO46). The proposed amendment will now enable cabinet members to act quickly, which is common practice in other councils.

Previously the council has chosen not to empower cabinet members to take decisions within their portfolio, but restrictions will now be removed making cabinet members more accountable.

Cllr Cox said the change was a “necessity”.

He added: “What’s being proposed is done in the majority of councils. Officers welcome this. What it doesn’t allow is politicians to hide behind officers. This is about standing up and taking account of decisions.

“Towards the back end of the last council under the last administration, there was a portfolio holder that was disgracefully kept out of the loop when an SO46 was signed by an officer. That should not happen. This will prevent that ever happening again.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Cox said a payment made to school transport company, Vecteo, without councillors’ knowledge.

He said: “There was a £500.000 payment to Vecteo signed off as an SO46 by officers.”

Labour councillors lodged their annoyance at having had little time to read through the late addition to the council agenda on Thursday. However, they disputed claims by the Tories that Labour opposed the changes.

Daniel Cowan, leader of the Labour Group, said: “We are not against what is being proposed. We have all spoken in favour and said it’s something that we welcome.

However, what we don’t welcome is the manner in which it was done. It was dropped on councillors by a late supplementary report, something you would not have accepted in opposition and it’s been brought forward at the last minute.

“What we are asking and what we have said is we are in favour but do it the right way. Take it through general purposes where we can all agree it.”

Cllr Cox who could have implemented the changes without referring it to councillors, said he would call for a review after six months at a general purposes committee meeting.

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter