Thursday, 12 July 2007

Council Procedures and Conventions

Photo of the Town Council in session in the old Town Hall

Last night was the final new members' training session before the Full Council meeting next Thursday (and how annoying is that: on by-election day).

Surprisingly, a number of long-standing councillors attended, including one previous mayor.

While the officers' presentation stuck to the nuts and bolts of procedure in the Council Chamber, there was a lively discussion amongst the councillors present about the need (or otherwise) for reform.

It seems that Darlington has lagged behind modern thinking in terms of engaging the electorate in the Council's activities. The emphasis in the Constitutional reform which will be taking place this year will be on opening the Council up to the community and encouraging community involvement in the activities of the Council. I shall be speaking on this subject when it comes before Council.

Much of the discussion last night, however, prompted by Alan Coultas, a new Conservative councillor, was about the need to change the way in which Council meetings are conducted, to allow genuine and open debate and questioning of Cabinet members. The fact that each member can speak once only on any given agenda item, and that no further debate is allowed after the Cabinet member has responded does not allow for a free-flowing debate in which the Cabinet can be held to account.

The Labour Councillors present defended the current system, blaming the opposition parties for not using the various other means at their disposal (such as putting motions before Council or initiating call-ins by Scrutiny Committees) to challenge the ruling group. The Conservative councillors (and me) belied their party name by calling for reform of the current system to enable a free-flowing debate where Cabinet members can be held to account. This seems unlikely to be part of the Labour Group's reform strategy, however.

Certainly, last night, and when I have discussed this outside the Council with Labour Councillors, their view has been that this would just lead to long-winded Council meetings going on late into the evening - much like in the old pre-Scrutiny days. Well, that's tough: if it makes for a more democratic and challenging Council, then the Labour side are just going to have to wait a bit longer for their bedtime cocoa.


Anonymous said...

Must agree with you there Mike Thats why flask and sandwich bags were invented of course the local pub trade will suffer a bit but the people and democacey must come first, plus will make a much more interesting council.

Anonymous said...

Mike, Labour keep it that way because apart from a few exceptions they are unable to debate. To debate an item would mean knowledge of a subject and intellegence. John Williams would never allow such attributes in his Cabinet they might steal his crown or and most likely such people can't be found in this group!