I LIVE in West Dorset but we’ve learned of news surrounding Cheshire East Council, and hear of moves among the public to ensure replacement of its ‘cabinet’ system of government with the more democratic ‘committee’ system.

In 2015 the public in West Dorset were frustrated with the workings of its district council, and forced a referendum under the Localism Act 2012, winning by a landslide (over 65 per cent to 35 per cent).

This has improved the co-working of councillors of different political parties, and allowed more diverse ideas and concerns to be aired.

It did not change the number of councillors, nor the political party mix, but by all accounts co-operation and spirit in the council have improved.

The ‘cabinet’ system allows the ruling party to form an all-powerful ‘cabinet’ consisting of only its own party’s councillors.

Against this, a ‘committee’ system ensures that places in the main committee are allocated in proportion to the number of councillors the electorate has voted in.

Narrow, highly party-political, closed discussion gives way to more open, creative discussion, employing better the wider experience of all councillors as voted in by the electorate.

Cheshire East now has an opportunity that our council unfortunately did not manage to pick up, but we all have more experience now.

We publicised regularly and consistently, as we campaigned, our fast progress towards achieving the number of signatures required, and our belief in our certainty of easily securing these (five per cent of those on the electoral roll) in order to force a referendum.

The cost of petition-checking and referendum-validation was going to be around £100,000 (and so it proved), but this cost could have been totally eliminated if the cabinet had agreed voluntarily to change its governance system.

Canterbury City Council clearly did avoid this cost: petition signings were flowing in strongly there, and they took the decision early on to convert voluntarily, saving considerable expense to the community.

It could be that in a large area such as Cheshire East the administrative cost to the public purse of checking a petition and running and checking a referendum would be several hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Whatever the decision of the Cheshire East Cabinet on this I would implore everyone to at least consider this issue now, before a petition is lodged and verified, which triggers a referendum, and major cost. The council has the ability to avoid these costs.

It would be good to hear of progress for all, and that Cheshire East will join West Dorset, Canterbury and Fylde – who have already moved to the more open and democratic ‘committee’ system – meeting the will of the people.

John Grantham Leader of West Dorset Referendum Campaign