FRUSTRATED and angered by Warrington Borough Council’s handling of various issues across the town local resident Richard Buttrey has launched a petition calling for a referendum on an elected Mayor.
Mr Buttrey, aged 71, from Grappenhall, requires 7,917 names – 5 per cent of the local population, to sign the petition to trigger a referendum on whether Warrington should have an elected Mayor.
He believes an elected Mayor, with a politically balanced Executive Committee would be a better way to run decision making at the town hall.
Mr Buttrey said: “For three years I’ve been observing and publishing YouTube videos of various Council Meetings in an attempt to shed more light on the council.
“Over that time it has become clear that the quality of debate and decision making is well below that which we have a right to expect. Decisions are often ill-judged and merely rubber stamped resulting in waste of time and money.
“The original decision to close libraries, the High Court rejection of the earlier Local Plan, the auditors critical report over the Great Sankey leisure centre, and the current Western Link ever increasing forecast cost are just some cases in point.”
He says “the ill thought out and badly presented and advertised Local Plan Preferred Development Option (PDO) in July 2017 finally brought things to a head.”
Mr Buttrey added: “All Council Committees are required under the Constitution to be politically balanced. All that is except the Executive Committee where the Labour Leader, Cllr. Terry O’Neill, clearly believes it acceptable that all the members are Labour Councillors. It means that there is no effective opposition to offer checks and balances. An effective opposition is vital to the democratic process as has been well demonstrated at a national level.
“It’s clear that the ten member Council Executive just aren’t up to the mark!”
Mr Buttrey believes an elected Mayor, who had campaigned on a manifesto of running the Council with a politically balanced Executive that was representative of all voters, could change this.
Meanwhile he says the borough council has resolutely refused to permit the use of their e-petition service on the WBC servers for this purpose.
“Several other local authorities around the country have done so and there is nothing in the legislation that says that there must be ‘wet’ signatures on paper petitions.
“I’ve been in discussions with the borough council since October trying to establish why they won’t allow it and all I’ve had is ‘it’s our decision not to’. I’ve made the obvious point that from their point of view it would be far simpler and less costly to cross check a file of electronic signatures to the electoral roll than have to manually inspect 8000 names spread across who knows how many sheets. You may have a view on why the council are so reluctant to make gathering signatures by e-petition, I couldn’t possibly comment!
“The aim of the petition and the resulting referendum is to seek to elect a mayor who has pledged to appoint a politically balanced Executive Committee. Under WBCs constitution the Executive Committee is the only one that is not required to be politically balanced and many of us feel that isn’t just and right. It’s all about a question of fairness and democracy and having the views of ALL voters represented on the most important Committee in the council.
Mr Buttrey added: I followed the government guidance on Mayoral petitions which says that it’s a good idea when starting one to discuss with the Local Authority to ensure the wording is correct. WBC resolutely refused to offer any opinion or otherwise engage in any discussion with me despite my requesting a number of times. I even offered to have a face to face chat but they declined that too.
“The only conclusion I draw is that they want to make it as difficult as possible!”
A council spokesperson said: “The council is aware of an individual within the borough who wants to commence a petition in order to call a borough referendum on whether or not the council should move to a model of an elected mayor.
“This would be a paper petition and would need to attract 7,917 signatures from individual voters within a specified time period. The council would then validate all the names on the petition to ensure that they are currently on the electoral role.
“If there is a referendum and the outcome is for an elected mayor then the council would need to completely review its constitution, its democratic processes and its structures”.
On the issue of a hard copy petition the council spokesperson added: “A petition proposing a referendum which could change the constitution of a council is subject to legislation which requires the authority to confirm the validity of the petition. Given the particular requirements for a valid petition of this nature, the council has determined that a hard copy paper petition is the appropriate method to allow the authority to make that determination.”
Last year, after originally being linked to a devolution deal with Liverpool the controlling Labour group eventually voted in support of a deal with Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cheshire East Council,although nothing has been formally agreed as yet.
For more details on Mr Buttrey’s campaign for a referendum for an elected mayor for Warrington or to download copies of the petition CLICK HERE