An oddball 2019 for Shropshire Council (1) – call for vegan adverts to be banned from Shropshire buses threatens freedom of speech

This is the first of two articles about the way that Shropshire Council has begun the New Year in a remarkably oddball way.

Steve Charmley, deputy leader of the council has got a bee in his bonnet about vegan adverts on Arriva buses. He wants them banned because Shropshire is “a great County built on Agriculture!” I would have hoped we are first and foremost a great county based on human rights and freedom of speech. Councillor Charmley is calling for a meeting with Arriva buses, a company the council subsidises to the tune of £2 million a year. That meeting would be wrong just at the point the council is planning to cut £405,000 from its £2.5 million bus budget.

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What’s on the next Shropshire Council agenda? Nothing. Zilch. Sweet Fanny Adams

Communities minister Greg Clark visited Shirehall yesterday and council leaders were engaged in an extensive lobbying exercise to get a fairer funding deal for our county. I have no doubt that the meeting was a useful briefing for Mr Clark, and he will have heard how different Shropshire is from his own constituency of Tunbridge Wells in Kent.[1]  Nevertheless, he promised council leaders absolutely no more money. Nothing. Zilch. Sweet Fanny Adams.

I wonder if Mr Clark was shown the agenda for next Thursday’s council meeting. Because he might have been shocked that a council lobbying for greater recognition in the scheme of things has absolutely nothing on its agenda. Nothing. Zilch. Sweet Fanny Adams. It is a complete political vacuum.

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Shropshire Council backs down on plans to ban public asking oral questions at council meetings

The new council leader has backed down on plans to prevent members of the public asking oral questions at full council meetings. He had proposed that members of the public would be allowed to ask questions in writing only, without the option of asking a supplementary question arising from the answer.

Last week, I published a plan by Shropshire Council’s new leader to ban the public from asking questions at council meetings. There is some dispute within the council as to whether the committee paper I cited is confidential. I got instructions to withdraw the post. That censorship made headlines.

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Shropshire’s new council leader is determined your voice won’t be heard at council meetings [censored]

[Shropshire Council has censored this blog post.]

Members of the public have always had a right to be heard at Shropshire Council meetings. Since the council was founded in 2009, public questions and petitions have been heard at the beginning of the meeting. That’s going to change. The new council leader, Malcolm Pate, is determined to end any public participation in council meetings.

At present residents can ask a public question. The question is tabled at the beginning of the meeting. The resident then asks a supplementary question. It is answered by a cabinet member.

This will end under Malcolm Pate’s proposals. Public questions and the answers to them will be noted at the meeting, with no opportunity to ask a supplementary question. There will be no public participation as at present. It will not be worth members of the public turning up. Many will think it will not be worth asking a question at all if all that happens is that it is minuted in a thick wodge of council papers.

Maybe that is Malcolm Pate’s intention. To discourage the public from asking questions which challenge the council’s actions.

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Shropshire Council meetings could be broadcast in future

In May, I was not alone in castigating Shropshire Council for actions “worthy of a totalitarian state” when it confiscated cameras from members of the public at the beginning of a council meeting. Three days after Viv Parry gave notice of a question at last Thursday’s council meeting, the rules were changed. Now Keith Barrow has said he wants council meetings to be broadcast.

He told last Thursday’s council meeting:

I think this council meeting should be videoed. I have asked officers to look at the feasibility of video – not just the council meeting but I think planning meetings as well. I think it would be good for the council and good for people as well.

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Recording and broadcasting of council and planning meetings should be instigated as soon as possible – even if it is initially just audio recordings. (Must as the House of Commons was first broadcast on audio before cameras were allowed into the chamber.)

When Shropshire Council eventually moves out of Shirehall, the new building should be equipped to broadcast all meetings held in public.