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Agenda item

Transparency and Openness of Tewkesbury Borough Council Proceedings

Councillor Stanley will propose and Councillor Munro will second:

This Motion is in line with our Council Value to ‘Put Customers First’ to listen, treat our residents fairly and continuously improve our culture.

Members of the public have the opportunity to ask questions at full Council but do not currently have the right to ask any supplementary questions. This is not in line with other Gloucestershire Councils including Cheltenham, Cotswolds, Stroud and Gloucestershire County Council who all allow members of the public the right to ask a supplementary question following on from the replies they receive.

In terms of Minutes of Council meetings, the current practice at Tewkesbury Borough Council is for the Minutes of the previous full Council meeting to be published with the Agenda for the next meeting. Accordingly, the minutes for the last full Council on 28 July are not available on the Council website until seven working days before the next meeting. The same practice is followed for all other Committee meetings with the exception of the Executive Committee where a Decision Notice is published within three working days of the meeting.

Officers are fully supported by Members for their work to deliver accurate minutes of meetings and are thanked for their hard work in supporting Borough Councillors and the functions of the Council. This Motion is a request to change process at Tewkesbury Borough Council to improve openness and transparency of the Council’s proceedings.

Scrutiny is an essential part of the democratic process and therefore as many of the Council’s decisions should be made available to the public as soon as possible after meetings to aid transparency and trust in Council decision-making. As the Council and Executive are the main decision-makers, it is proposed that a Decision Notice is published for full Council along the lines as already exists for the Executive Committee. It is understood that this is achievable without the need for additional resources.

Accordingly, the Council is asked to

1.      Amend the scheme of Public Participation to allow members of the public the right to ask supplementary questions arising from the answers to their original questions, and

2.      Adopt the same practice that is followed for the Executive Committee and publish a Decision Notice for full Council within three working days of the meeting. 

Minutes:

30.20        The Worshipful the Mayor referred to the Notice of Motion set out on the Agenda and indicated that, in accordance with the Council’s Rules of Procedure, it was necessary for the Council firstly to decide whether it wished to debate and determine the Motion at this evening’s meeting, or whether it wished to refer the Motion, without debate, to a Committee for consideration with authority either to make a decision on the matter or to bring a recommendation back to Council.  

30.21        It was agreed that the Motion would be considered at the current meeting and, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure, the proposer of the Motion was invited to present the Motion. He indicated that the Motion was intended to improve the Council’s transparency to residents as well as bringing Tewkesbury Borough Council into step with the other authorities in the county. In terms of members of the public asking supplementary questions, it was felt that offering a right of reply would enhance the experience and engagement of the public in the Council’s business which could only be a good thing in respect of the scheme of public participation. In relation to the publication of a decision notice following meetings of the Council, it was envisaged this would follow the same process as the Executive Committee decision notices which Officers had confirmed would be achievable taking account of current resources. The seconder of the Motion agreed with the proposer and expressed the importance of local government being seen to be open, transparent and accountable as well as encouraging members of the public to come forward and ask questions about things which were of concern to them. She also felt it was important to get decisions of the Council out into the public domain as quickly as possible.

30.22        During the discussion which ensued, a Member expressed the view that the Motion was a perfectly sensible proposal which would bring Tewkesbury Borough Council into line with other authorities. In agreement, another Member felt that community engagement should be encouraged and this meant offering residents the opportunity to respond to answers received; she was of the opinion that the Council could not be too open or too transparent and, as such, she would be supporting the Motion. In offering an alternative view, a Member indicated that the Borough Council had operated its current constitutional procedures for a very long time with no identified problems and therefore he was unsure of the need for the Motion. The recent Peer Challenge Review had commended the authority for the way it carried out its business; he felt the fundamental point was that the Council changed things through its constitutional structures following thorough investigation and considered analysis rather than on an ad-hoc basis through Council Motions and the Council should be proud of its open and transparent history. Another Member felt it was embarrassing to the Council that a member of the public could take the time to engage by asking questions and then not be given the opportunity to come back if they were not satisfied with the response provided. He was of the view that allowing a follow-up question was a common courtesy which should be extended to all.

30.23        A Member drew attention to the last time the Constitution was considered by the Council and the fact that, within that revision, the right to ask supplementary questions had been amended – shown by track-changes – and, whilst it did not state that supplementary questions were allowed, it also did not say they were not. In addition, she felt it should be noted that decisions made at Executive Committee were not made ‘behind closed doors’; any Councillor could attend the meeting and all open business was streamed online for anyone to watch. She found the suggestion that the Council was not transparent to be upsetting as she was proud to be a Member of Tewkesbury Borough Council and felt it demonstrated its openness to its residents all the time. In response to an earlier statement, another Member indicated that the Council could change things because it wanted to improve them rather than because it had to and he saw no reason not to make the changes suggested in the Motion, the core of which, was to improve the experience of the public when they engaged with the Council. In agreeing with that view, a Member noted that residents did not ask questions for no reason, they were there because they were passionate about an issue and the Council should engage with that and encourage it.

30.24        There was some concern expressed about the tone of the discussion and debate and it was suggested it might be helpful for Motions to be discussed informally in the first instance to enable a full understanding of the reasons for it and what it aimed to achieve. A Member indicated that she had tried to use that approach in the past, but it had not resulted in support for her Motion and concern was expressed at the political nature of the debate which was not the intention of the Motions put forward.  Some Members expressed offence at the suggestion that the Council was not transparent and it was confirmed that there had been no intention to cause offence to any other Member.

30.25        Clarification was requested about supplementary questions not being mentioned in the Constitution and, in response, the Borough Solicitor confirmed that the Council’s Procedure Rules were silent on the matter, i.e. they did not say there was or was not a right for the public to ask supplementary questions, and on that basis the inference was that there was no right.

30.26        It was proposed and seconded that the Motion ‘be put’ and, upon receiving the appropriate level of support, a recorded vote was taken as follows:

For

Against

Abstain

Absent

Not Voting

R A Bird

 

 

J H Evetts

P W Ockelton

G F Blackwell

 

 

A Hollaway

 

G J Bocking

 

 

 

C L J Carter

 

 

 

 

C M Cody

 

 

 

 

K J Cromwell

 

 

 

 

M Dean

 

 

 

 

R D East

 

 

 

 

L A Gerrard

 

 

 

 

P A Godwin

 

 

 

 

M A Gore

 

 

 

 

D W Gray

 

 

 

 

D J Harwood

 

 

 

 

M L Jordan

 

 

 

 

E J MacTiernan

 

 

 

 

J R Mason

 

 

 

 

H C McLain

 

 

 

 

P D McLain

 

 

 

 

H S Munro

 

 

 

 

J W Murphy

 

 

 

 

A S Reece

 

 

 

 

C Reid

 

 

 

 

J K Smith

 

 

 

 

P E Smith

 

 

 

 

R J G Smith

 

 

 

 

V D Smith

 

 

 

C Softley

 

 

 

 

R J Stanley

 

 

 

 

S A T Stevens

 

 

 

 

P D Surman

 

 

 

 

M G Sztymiak

 

 

 

 

S Thomson

 

 

 

 

R J E Vines

 

 

 

 

M J Williams

 

 

 

 

P N Workman

 

 

 

 

30.27        Accordingly, it was

                 RESOLVED           That the Motion be put.

30.28        A recorded vote was requested and, upon receiving the appropriate level of support, voting on the Motion was recorded as follows:

For

Against

Abstain

Absent

Not Voting

C L J Carter

R A Bird

J H Evetts

P W Ockelton

C M Cody

G F Blackwell

A Hollaway

 

L A Gerrard

G J Bocking

 

D J Harwood

K J Cromwell

 

 

 

M L Jordan

M Dean

 

 

 

H S Munro

R D East

 

 

 

P E Smith

P A Godwin

 

 

 

R J G Smith

M A Gore

 

 

 

C Softley

D W Gray

 

 

 

R J Stanley

E J MacTiernan

 

 

 

S A T Stevens

J R Mason

 

 

 

M G Sztymiak

H C McLain

 

 

 

S Thomson

P D McLain

 

 

 

P N Workman

J W Murphy

 

 

 

 

A S Reece

 

 

 

 

C Reid

 

 

 

 

J K Smith

 

 

 

 

V D Smith

 

 

P D Surman

 

 

 

 

R J E Vines

 

 

 

 

M J Williams

 

 

 

30.29        With 14 votes in favour and 21 against, the Motion was lost.

30.30        Accordingly, it was

                 RESOLVED           That the Motion not be approved.