Thursday, 28 March 2013

Another Barnet Council Car Crash happens in slow motion

Barnet Council leader Richard Cornelius is in the Barnet Times claiming that Labour Councillor Barry Rawlings is wrong to challenge a change to the Council constitution which would prevent the public from asking questions at the Budget Overview and Scrutiny committee (BOSC), where discussions were being held to discuss whether decisions were being called in by the committee.

Of all the ridiculous changes proposed under the this administration, this is the most ridiculous and Councillor Rawlings is quite right to make his challenge. What better time to have public questions than prior to a decision to refer bad decisions back to the cabinet? Surely this is the most appopriate time for members of the public to have their say. Surely the BOSC would be keen to know if members of the public have concerns and whether these add weight to a decision for a call in.

Just to put things in perspective, public questions are limited to 30 minutes and the committee is under no obligation to take any action in response to the questions. If the councillors cannot be bothered to spend 30 minutes listening to members of the public, then clearly something is wrong. Mr Cornelius says that it is wrong that the chairman has to listen to questions he can't answer. What Mr Cornelius refers to is the fact that the BOSC can only refer decisions back to cabinet. It can't change or amend decisions. Often the public ask questions of the committee because they are unfamiliar with the rules.

Mr Cornelius is quite wrong headed to respond to this issue by banning questions. An effective committee chair would simply explain to the questioner the limit of the committee's role. In my experience the chair has been more than capable of doing that. This move is simply an overreaction to a problem which does not exist.

What we are seeing is yet another Barnet Council car crash in slow motion. 


Mr Mustard said...

Cornelius is missing some important points.

The answers to questions may be delivered by the chairman but that doesn't mean he wrote the answers. There is time for the most appropriate councillor or officer (most likely) to draft and discuss the answers with the chair and brief them on possible follow ups.

The chair, the committee and Cornelius might learn something from the question and answer. Knowledge is never wasted (well almost never!)

The member of the public will get a warm glow about the council from their invovlement (provided that the question is faithfully answered. If the question is fudged another blogger may be born).

Limiting democracy does not enhance democracy.

The limitation may lead to more FOI questions which the council would prefer not to have to answer.

Dave-ros said...

Every day Barnet tries to out-Bexley Bexley!