Another thing that we decided upon at Annual Council on Thursday night was the level of Councillors allowances for the coming year.

No one becomes a councillor for the allowances that you get, as they do not “pay” for the amount of time that most councillors invest in their council. However it is right to recompense councillors in some way for the time that they do give. Harlow has traditionally had low allowances compared to its neighbouring councils and that is a tradition my administration has been happy to follow. Our allowances are recommended to council by an independent panel, and we are happy to accept the panels recommendations.

In the last two years we have kept allowances frozen but this year, because of the budget being very tight we had to ask staff to take a 1.3% pay cut. I said at the time that councillors allowances should be reduced by the same amount, meaning that everyone, staff and councillors shared the burden equally. The independent panel obviously agreed, as on Thursday night the council agreed a cut in the basic allowance for all councillors, we also agreed cuts to most of the special responsibility allowances (those additional allowances paid to Chairmen of committees etc)

I am really pleased that councillors followed through on the promise.

After getting past the excitement of the elections, the last week has been focussed on moving forward. Thursday night was the Annual Council meeting, that is the meeting that appoints both the Chairman of the Council and the Leader of the Council. Cllr Mike Garnett was Elected Chairman of Harlow Council for this year, and I was honoured to be relected Leader of the Council.
Whilst I didn’t have to name my cabinet at that meeting, I felt it would be right to do so, to let people know as quickly as possible who was going to be responsible for what. I also named the Chairmen of the other committees, including the two new Select Committees, powerful back bench scrutiny committees that can hold the cabinet to account. There is also a Call-in committee that can call in (question the detail of) any descision taken by the cabinet; I offered the Chairmanship of this committee to the opposition. 
Our Cabinet members & Chairmen for 2011 / 2012 are:

Resources Portfolio: Simon Carter

Environment Portfolio: Tony Hall

Governance Portfolio:  Eddie Johnson (Also Deputy Leader)

Community and Citizenship Portfolio: Joel Charles

Regeneration and Enterprise Portfolio: Russell Perrin

Housing Portfolio: Clive Souter

Select Committee Housing/Finance/Governance: Linda Pailing

Select Committee Environment/Community/Regeneration: Mark Gough

Audit: Sue Livings

Licensing: Nick Churchill

Development Control: Shona Johnson

Call-In: Given to the Opposition to ensure transparency

This is a very strong team who are determined to deliver for the people of Harlow, and I am very much looking forward to working with them over the coming year to improve Harlow for all.

Next week is the “Annual Council meeting” – the first meeting of the council after the local elections.

At the ACM we elect the two ceremonial roles Chairman and Vice Chairman of the council and the business roles Leader and Deputy Leader, we also decide which committees that we are going to have and appoint to them and appoint their Chairmen and vice Chairmen. Its all rather procedural and boring at times.

BUT I have been wondering a lot about the formation of the council and who goes where to best serve the town, given the mass of skills the Conservative administration in Harlow has at its disposal.

I have also been thinking about the Scrutiny role, and considering that I don’t believe an administration should scrutinise itself, I am fairly sure that we should not only let the opposition Chair that committee, as is tradition in Harlow, but that they should have the vice chairman position on it too.

I really would like to see Harlow Council operating in a more streamlined decision making process so that good decisions can be made faster and cheaper.