The decision of the Tory Council Leader, to try to sack his opposite number in the LibDem Group this week, is without precedent.
In doing so, Cllr Carr broke an agreement which had seen a stable administration take control of a Council which in 2015 had been badly bruised by a series of unpopular and impulsive decisions by its predecessor. That (Labour led) administration rightly paid a heavy penalty at the polls, the results of which also left the Council balanced with “no overall control”.
Many hoped for a return to the “committee system” where decisions were taken at meetings where the attendance reflected the political makeup of the Council. Sadly, that was not to be, but a more inclusive form of governance emerged with all parties now represented at Executive meetings.
It provided a platform for 4 years of stable government although few would have expected an entirely peaceful relationship given the differences between the Tory and LibDem parties at national level, not least on policies such as Europe.
Ironically, it appears that it was an officer decision to investigate the source of a leak to The Press newspaper that prompted last week’s meltdown. There hasn’t been a similar crisis in local government in the City since the then Council Leader Rod Hills was investigated by the Police in the early part of the last decade.
It is only recently that Council Leaders were given the powers to “hire and fire” Executive/Cabinet members at will.
It is a responsibility which needs to be exercised with caution and consideration. In a coalition arrangement, it also needs to be exercised through consent.
That clearly hasn’t happened.
The situation has been inflamed by Cllr Carr’s description of the allegations against two LibDem Executive members as “serious”. Whether something is “serious” is a subjective judgement and one that may prejudice any consideration by the Councils Standards Board.
In the meantime, the coalition protocols are effectively suspended. It will require good will on all sides if essential decision-making processes are to be exercised in the best interests of the people of York.
A more experienced Council Leader (Cllr Carr was first elected in 2015) would have found ways of mitigating any issues. A good start would have been to consider the outcomes of any reference to the local Standards Board before taking unilateral action. Significantly, several Councillors – from all parties – have had their actions referred for investigation in the past but have continued to work as normal pending an judgement.
There is no happy outcome in prospect.
If the coalition is to continue for a while longer, then the Tories will have to replace their Leader with someone with more experience and flair.
That would allow a fresh start to be made with the interests of the City put above political posturing.