County council leaders are being urged to ditch ‘appalling procedures’ and give backbench members more opportunity to scrutinise their decisions at cabinet meetings.
Liberal Democrat councillor Dennis Meredith is urging Conservative leader Matt Golby to allow backbench members more opportunity to raise observations at the meetings of the cabinet.
Speaking at the opening council meeting of the year on Thursday (May 23), the veteran councillor said: “As a backbench councillor I feel totally disenfranchised with being unable to take part in cabinet procedure.
“The procedure that has been put in place is absolutely appalling. It doesn’t give backbench councillors a chance to make any observations, and that is one of the reasons why this situation has to change.
“I urge Councillor Golby to take a stance and end this ridiculous practice. It’s the only chance for backbench councillors to represent our residents, and if we have a concern we need to raise it at cabinet meetings.”
His comments follow the change in format in November, which at the time Councillor Meredith labelled as ‘the death of democracy’. The new cabinet rules currently stipulate that party leaders only are allowed the chance to ask questions, or they can delegate to a single member of their party.
Only questions are allowed, not statements or observations, and the latest cabinet meeting on May 14 ended in a blazing row between Councillor Golby and Labour councillor Danielle Stone over that procedure.
Councillor Stone accused the leader of being ‘discriminatory’ by allowing Conservative councillor Adam Brown to raise his observations over a proposal to end financial support for unaccompanied asylum seeking children who have exhausted their appeal rights, instead of asking a question.
The row appears to have sparked Councillor Meredith into action, who is now in the process of organising a petition to change the rules back and allow all councillors the opportunity to address the cabinet.
He said: “I do hope some Conservatives sign it. I’m sorry that I have to raise this but I’m really annoyed that we are put to the back and not allowed to speak. We have a role to play, and you as an administration have to realise how important that is.”
He will be presenting this petition at the next meeting, but appears unlikely to receive support from Councillor Golby, who responded to his comments by saying: “I don’t think it’s the appropriate point to bring this up. The point he makes is about how we engage at cabinet. It is my decision, it is the meeting of cabinet, and frankly the behaviour that Councillor Meredith exhibited at the last cabinet meeting was despicable.”
The county council has previously defended the change in format, with a spokesman saying the new procedures were based on ‘improving arrangements for the committee to be informed of the public’s views on emerging issues while ensuring that meetings are managed effectively’.
They add that any member may submit a question pertaining to agenda items before each meeting.
However the responses to these questions are often sent to members directly and are not presented in the cabinet meetings, which are open to the public and press.