Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Democratic Deficiency

Yesterday, most of the 54 councillors schlepped over to the Civic Offices for a Council Meeting which lasted all of 15 minutes or so. Much of that was spent by me expressing my disappointment that the LibDems did not allow themselves to be questioned in the normal way at the meeting.

Four years ago, the Government insisted that the Council's accounts were ratified by the end of June. The Council at this time realised too late and so had to hold an Extraordinary Council Meeting to deal with this one item of business.

Now I have only been in office since 2006 and so this was only my second meeting to approve the accounts. Last year it was deemed a normal Full Council meeting and we asked questions as did members of the public as usual. This year I agreed (along with two colleagues) to a council meeting to consider only the one item of business. However this was interpreted as an Extraordinary Council Meeting which expressly excludes all other items including questions. I raised the point, which remains unanswered, as to how can the meeting be Extraordinary when it is held every year at a date that we agree some months in advance.

Our May Council Meeting was ceremonial as it is when we appoint the new Mayor and confirm committee positions. We are scheduled to have a meeting at the end of July and then do not meet until November. This ensures that the Executive are only questioned in this way once in seven months (and you thought the Prime Minister had it easy over the summer parliamentary recess). Of course, councillors can ask written questions as can members of the public. However, written and oral questioning serve different purposes, analysing the lead councillors' grasp of their brief in very different ways.

Even an old cynic like me doesn't believe that I have been gagged deliberately, but I do believe that the leadership could have been more flexible and there are surely better ways to spend the £700 or so of your money that it would have cost to stage the meeting.

3 comments:

edmund said...

Bit rich that coming from Cllr Scully who was part of forcing the Lib-Dems into an extraordinary council meeting a while back, which cost the same £700 and achieved absolutely nothing.

Mind you Scully and Co did claim it was done in the name of "democracy and accountability".

Scully said...

Somewhat missing the point here, Edmund. Last year's Extraordinary Meeting was called because the LibDems were making a decision that cost the taxpayer £200,000. We clearly showed them a way of saving at least £120,000. They chose not to take this.

Was nothing acheived? Certainly the saving wasn't. That's because we are in opposition and so have less votes. You can take your logic further and get rid of all council meetings because the majority will always rubber stamp the Executive's decisions. I'm not aware of anyone suggesting this in reality.

The point I was making about last week's meeting is that it was called to fulfil a statutory duty, not to have any meaningful discussion. Since we were dragged out to spend all of 10 minutes approving the accounts, we might as well have conducted some proper business as well since we only have one more opportunity to hold the Executive account until November.

Cllr David Pickles said...

Edmund. Here I must agree with Cllr Scully. I was at that meeting and was a part of it. The Conservatives did indeed show the Lib-Dems how to save money, but in their usual arrogant way they decided to ignore it. As a tory at the time, I even joined in calls for every council meeting to be held in a meeting room as opposed to the expense of the Europa Gallery.
I also agree with Paul's points re last Monday's meeting. I was not present but believe it was a very short one and cannot understand why the council went to the bother and expense of convening such a short meeting. It would have been an ideal time for the opposition to ask some pertinent questions, but as we all know the Lib-Dems don't like being questioned on anything.