On 18th March Hastings Borough Council, meeting in full session, agreed urgent new rules to allow its recently appointed (and wholly unelected) Managing Director, Jane Hartnell to make “emergency” and “urgent” decisions when councillors were unable to meet.

• Emergencies were defined to include events covered by the council’s Emergency Plan as well as unprecedented episodes, such as pandemics.

• Urgent decisions were defined as those “essential to the council’s operation during an emergency”.

The Managing Director is required to check with at least four members of the cabinet, one of whom must be an opposition councillor and one to be the Leader or Deputy Leader of the Council, before making any decisions under these rules.

So what happens if there is disagreement between cabinet members – as is the case right now, with Cllrs Forward and Fitzgerald making it clear that they oppose easing of the lockdown in terms of reopening toilets, sports activities and other amenities, while opposition councillors express opinions in favour? Will Ms Hartnell go with the Labour majority – or is there some sense that this kind of decision needs to win a broader consensus?

Nearly three months into the lockdown, the council has eventually convened a virtual cabinet meeting, to be held on 8th June. HIP will monitor the outcome, or at least what emerges from it in public.

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