Ashfield leader leaves council meeting and doesn't vote as Notts devolution moves closer

A council leader left the chamber during a heated debate at a meeting where potential Nottinghamshire devolution edged a step closer.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 8:56 am
Jason Zadrozny, leader of Ashfield District Council

A motion was passed at Nottinghamshire County Council ‘in principle’ to change the authority’s system.

Councillors backed a move from being committee-based to a cabinet system – something which would cost the council £100,000 if approved by councillors in the new year.

But Coun Jason Zadrozny, leader of Ashfield District Council, left and didn’t take part in the vote after his call to defer was beaten down.

The proposed system, with the current electoral make-up, would see decision-making power switch to a cabinet made up of councillors from the ruling Conservative group and full council, as well as some officers.

In the committee system, decisions are made by committees made up of members from all parties.

Nottinghamshire County Council only adopted the current system in 2012.

Ben Bradley, leader of the county council, has been outspoken in his support for devolution, labelling it “massive” for the region in securing extra cash.

Government figures show the East Midlands currently receives the lowest per-head investment of any area in England.

Coun Bradley said: “The government doesn’t consider a committee system to meet their threshold for strong and accountable leadership.

“These changes are an absolute imperative in us delivering on this priority.

“We cannot do it without making these changes, improving things for our residents hinges on us having a model of leadership here at County Hall.”

But some councillors raised concerns that a cabinet system means less scrutiny from councillors.

Jason Zadrozny (Ashfield Ind) said: “Today the report asks for us to spend £100,000 on changing a system, effectively reducing scrutiny and the role of the opposition, to start a process that neither the previous Secretary of State or the Peer Review, or residents have asked for.

“I strongly feel that we are premature. An example of where a cabinet system goes wrong is Nottingham City Council, where the council was criticised by its own members for poor scrutiny and we know that led to the debacles like the Robin Hood Energy process.

“I think we need to write to Michael Gove and we need to ask him to confirm whether he believes that the letter dated the July 15 from Mr Jenrick is still the belief of his department.

“The cost of that stamp might save this council £100,000.”

He asked that the council deferred the decision until Full Council in November.

But Mr Bradley said he could not delay the motion due to the strict timescale meaning they would “miss the opportunity of devolution” – and Cllr Zadrozny’s request for deferral was turned down.

Councillor Stephen Carr (Lib Dem) said: “I’ve always been a fan of the committee system but having been in power at Broxtowe as the deputy leader of the council, it is a very frustrating system.

“I agree with councillor Bradley that the prospect of a cabinet system in a devolved situation would probably be the best way forward.”

Councillor Penny Gowland (Lab) said: “At a time when so many residents are struggling with the cost of living and tax rising, we shouldn’t be batting away £100,000 on rearranging the council.

“Our officers could alternatively be doing important work on managing new services and children’s services.

“If we are going to do this, we need several scrutiny committees.”

51 councillors voted in favour of the motion and there were eight abstentions.

Cllr Zadrozny left chamber during the debate and did not take part in the vote.