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.