One of the main ways councillors and the public can find out what is happening in Shropshire Council, and make political points, is to ask questions or deliver petitions. There are several interesting questions at next Thursday’s Council meeting, including on affordable housing, recycling and business rates. The council will also consider plans to limit public questions at future meetings.
One of the main ways of the public engaging with the council is through questions at full council meetings. Shropshire Council has long not been keen on them. The current rules are that a member of the public can submit a question in writing in advance, get a written response at the council meeting and then ask a supplementary question. If Shropshire Council approves a proposal on Thursday, questioners will have to give notice of a question up to 24 hours in advance, rather than 48 hours as at present. The question will be asked in person at the meeting. The relevant portfolio holder will give a verbal reply. No supplementary questions will be allowed. The aim is clearly to prevent citizens springing unexpected questions on portfolio holders who don’t know the answer.
This is a retrograde step. We should look at increasing public participation in council matters not reducing it. Unfortunately, Shropshire Council has a track record here.
Update: On a majority vote, councillors voted to ban the public from asking a supplementary question at future council meetings. Some Tories voted against this proposal to reduce public participation in meetings, as did all opposition councillors.
We won’t know what public questions will be asked on Thursday until shortly before the meeting.
The other way the public engage is through petitions. There are two petitions on the agenda for Thursday’s council meeting:
1) Petition opposing the changes and charges to the Market Drayton Car Park.
2) Say NO to Council plans to raise parking charges in Shrewsbury.
Each petition will have gained at least 1,000 signatures. The petitioners will be allowed five minutes to outline their case, after which there will be a debate among council members of up to 15 minutes. Council leaders will then decide whether to take any action following the petition.
Councillors are entitled to present motions, calling for change in the way the council operates. There are three on the agenda on Thursday.
1) Green councillor Julian Dean will ask the council to make representations to the government on proposals to remove domestic abuse refuges and other forms of short-term supported housing from the welfare system.
2) Lib Dem councillor Heather Kidd is calling on council officers to urgently bring forward innovative ways to build housing to satisfy local need and not the profits of developers in our rural areas.
3) I am asking officers to explore the case for a countywide lottery.
Councillor questions are an important way of finding out what is happening at the council and also make political statements. There are nine questions at this meeting, rather more than usual. The questions and answers are online. Councillors will be allowed to ask a supplementary question during the meeting – but not comment on either the written answer or the oral response to the supplementary question.
Conservative councillors David Turner and Stuart West have questions congratulating the council leadership on keeping the budget under control and on the high performance of children and adult services. Lib Dem has Heather Kidd asked how much local needs affordable housing has been built in rural areas. Fellow Lib Dem Roger Evans has questions on the community infrastructure levy and transfer of staff from Shropshire Council under TPUE regulations. Labour’s Pam Mosely is asking about the costs of employment of agency staff. Independent Dave Tremellen is asking about what has happened to a working group that was considering planning matters.
I have a question on recycling, including what is being done to get black plastic recycled and whether the council is to charge for collecting green waste. My second question is on the take up of rates relief.
It’s going to be a busy council meeting with a lot of other items on the agenda, including making many of those surviving on benefits pay 20% of their council tax bill and the potential purchase of shopping centres in Shrewsbury.
This is the last meeting of the year and members will be chomping at the bit for their Christmas lunch by the end of the meeting.
. This applies to other council meetings, including the three planning committees and cabinet.
. It is not clear that the question itself needs to be submitted rather than notice given, but I think the full question will have to be in writing.
. The system has been abused on at least one occasion, with the questioner using the supplementary question to attack a councillor. But this is rare and the speaker can stop this happening.