COUNCILLORS’ attendance is more crucial than ever, all sides of RMBC’s finely-balanced chamber have agreed.
Labour have 32 seats after the elections, while the opposition swelled to 27 — including an unprecedented 20 Tories.
The ruling group lost councillors through non-attendance last term, while some Conservative candidates were not expecting to win seats and be heading for three years of public office.
Tory MP Alexander Stafford stressed that his party’s newly-elected members would not have campaigned unless committed to the role of councillor.
And in this new era for RMBC, the first matter agreed by all sides is that turning up will be crucial.
Deputy mayor Cllr Ian Jones, Rotherham Democratic Party, said: “The attendance issue is going to be key to the integrity of the council.
“We are now in a position where Labour are going to have to reappraise the timetable of meetings as a lot of new candidates, both Labour and Conservative, are young and in full-time employment.
“This will make it harder to attend daytime only meetings, especially for those candidates who didn’t expect to be elected.”
Labour members not turning up would “stagnate” that party’s efforts, while an absence of Tories would return Rotherham to the “bad old days” of Labour pushing on without proper scrutiny, Cllr Jones added.
Lib Dem group leader Cllr Adam Carter also called for more evening meetings, adding: “The council is set up at present to suit councillors who are retired trade unionists.
“But this isn’t the way of the world any more and does not reflect the council that has been elected. There needs to be big changes.
“Evening meetings would be more accessible to both the public and councillors and would mean more people can be part of the democratic process.”
Cllr Carter — who has criticised the fact that all scrutiny chairmen are from the ruling group — added: “As Liberal Democrats, we will play a part in committees and scrutiny, but only time will tell if Labour change their ways.
“Labour mocked and shouted over opposition members like me who wanted to have their say.
“Looking at the election results they are going to have to learn to show some respect and listen to others.”
Independent Cllr Michael Sylvester said the new balance would bring a welcome pressure not seen before on RMBC.
“On many committees, it will just be a one or two-seat majority,” he added. “Just a single Labour councillor being either absent or rebelling has the ability to affect change.
“There is though pressure on the opposition to do its job. There are questions about if some of the Conservatives were fully prepared to be councillors, with unexpected wins, the RDP had some pretty appalling committee attendances in the past and the Lib Dems need to stop being coy about whether they will serve on committees.
“They could well end up being the Labour cabinet’s best friends by failing to take part in scrutiny.”
Council leader Cllr Chris Read said: “People always ought to be in the meetings they are supposed to attend, but that doesn’t always happen in the way you might like.
“Some people have talked about Labour ruling Rotherham as if there’s never been an opposition.
“In the past ten years, I’ve always known an active opposition, but obviously this time it will be bigger.
“But where we can, I’m sure we’ll work together. And where there are disagreements, that’s a healthy part of this way of doing things.”