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Canterbury City Council leader John Gilbey voices concerns after authority votes to switch to committee system

By Alex Claridge

Canterbury city councillors have formally agreed to rethink the way decisions are made within the authority.

At a full meeting of members they voted unanimously to push ahead with replacing the present executive structure with a committee system.

The decision comes just 10 months before next May's city council elections and is likely to leave the authority looking very different next summer.

The council meets at Canterbury's Guildhall

Prof Rick Norman, of the Campaign for Democracy in the Canterbury District (CDCD), welcomed the vote in the Guildhall last night.

He said: “I’m pleased but we’re still cautious about the future.

“The committee system can take various forms and the key is to change the political culture within the council so that it is more open and more transparent.”

CDCD blames the executive system for giving the ruling Tory majority the power to railroad through unpopular decisions despite public opposition.

Council leader John Gilbey has often found himself the focal point of criticism and attack over divisive issues.

Along with every other councillor, he voted to create a commission with an independent chairman to design a new committee system.

But he forecast a troubled road ahead.

“Personally, I’m worried about what you are embarking on,” the Conservative said.

“I’m going to vote for it, but it’s a dangerous course you are taking.”

City council leader John Gilbey

Cllr Alex Perkins, leader of the Lib Dem opposition, has served the council under both the executive and committee structures.

“It seems like a long time ago that we were forced to adopt the executive system,” he said.

“But the law has changed and we don’t have to accept it any more. We can be an inclusive council and involve as many people as possible in decision making.”

However, Tory Peter Lee warned that creating the new system would not be easy.

He said: “It needs to strike the right balance between introducing more democracy while at the same avoiding being sclerotic.”

Councillors also voted for the commission in charge of looking at the new system to begin its work in the coming months. It will hold its meetings in public.

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