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Diluted Democracy imposed by Medway's Tory Councillors

October 29, 2015 9:02 AM
By Tony Jeacock

Regarding the saga of Medway Conservative Council removing the right of the public to ask supplementary questions at full council meetings by which to effectively hold the Council to account, as previously reported, there was more participation in the debate coming from the LibDem Activists in the public gallery than from any of the elected UKIP Councillors, who contributed nothing.

Current Chairman of the Medway Liberal Democrats, Tony Jeacock, asked the Leader of the Tory Council, Cllr. Jarrett;

"Assuming the 'would-be-leader' of Medway Council gets his democracy-destroying proposal to end supplementary questions through, will the actual Leader endeavour to maintain some semblance of local democracy by allowing the public to ask questions at cabinet and/or sub-committee meetings instead, as in some other Councils, such as Oldham? If not, why not?"

By way of a response for which the Leader had one week to prepare:

Cllr. Jarrett stated that he saw no reason to extend the provision for public questions to other meetings. Medway had a good record of engaging with residents and stakeholders affected by prospective decisions long before matters came before the Cabinet and other decision-making committees so that the outcome of consultation was in front of Members when important decisions were being made. (He omitted to mention that the Tory Council's concept of 'consultation' was that of telling the public of the decision they had already made as opposed to using it as an exercise in which to reach as far as possible a mutual compromise).

He went on to say that there were a range of ongoing forums, including service user groups and Scrutiny Task Groups to ensure the Council was in continual dialogue with the community and there were other provisions within the Constitution to enable the voice of residents to be heard in a meaningful way. Medway had been identified by Government (a Tory Government) as an expert practitioner for the way it dealt with petitions from residents. There were Members' items and public speaking on request at the Overview and Scrutiny Committees, and a facility for call-in of Cabinet decisions.

He stated that, he and other Members of the Cabinet were held to account at every Council meeting, by regular appearances at the Overview and Scrutiny Committees and they would all endeavour to deal with enquiries relating to their areas of responsibility in a timely and transparent way.

He referred to Mr. Jeacock having cited Oldham as a model of best practice but despite there being a facility for public questions at meetings there had been no public questions for the Oldham Cabinet for the whole of 2015 so Medway should not be taking lessons from that particular Authority.

Tony Jeacock's supplementary question (which under the new rules counts as a last opportunity to tender such):

"Thank you Councillor for that comprehensive answer, but do you acknowledge that members of the public who take the trouble to attend Council meetings to put questions on matters of genuine concern to them or the groups that they represent are as important to the community and its' welfare as are the Councillors who are elected by those communities? Do you not agree that they should be treated with respect by providing them with a democratic platform on a regular basis by which to 'effectively' hold the Council to account?"

Councillor Jarrett stated that he did agree with that, and that was why these changes were being made.

The foregoing clearly demonstrates the fluff and waffle that Councillors are able to prepare at least a week in advance of a meeting in an endeavour to rebut the essence of the pre-submitted question. It also demonstrates the arrogance and contempt and inadequacy shown in responding to a related and serious supplementary question, for which they have not had time to prepare their response. Democracy!! Don't make me laugh!