The new-style Cabinet met yesterday evening, containing two new Cabinet members (Cllrs. Veronica Copeland and Jenny Chapman) but also the leaders of the Tories and LibDems, together with the Council's sole independent (Cllr. Steve Jones) and the lead Scrutiny councillor (Cllr. Ian Haszeldine).
To rewind, prior to the Local Government Act 2000, key decisions were taken by Councils in a series of Committees. These had representatives from all the political groups on the Council, but were whipped, so in effect decisions were largely determined in advance of the meeting. Parliament felt that this system was too cumbersome, leading to slow decision-making.
The new system created Cabinets formed from representatives of the majority party, with their decisions and the wider activitities of the local authority held to account via Scrutiny Committees made up of the rest of Council, strictly unwhipped.
This meant that Cabinet meetings in Darlington have been commendably brief, but the Executive has lacked the critical voice when decisions have been taken that was present under the old Committee system. As part of Labour's drive to open up the Council, oposition councillors, together with the Chair of the Darlington Partnership now sit on Cabinet and can comment freely.
Last night, both Cllr. Heather Scott for the Tories and Cllr. Martin Swainston for the LibDems showed no restraint in subjecting each item to a series of questions and observations, although I think it would be fair to say that no fundamental objections were raised by either.
These are the first steps on a long road towards greater transparency for the political management of the Council, but last night, we made a good start.