• East Devon independent councillors worried over desire to stifle democracy

    7th July 2014 | News | Claire
  • Concern was raised when East Devon councillors received a paper and invite to a private meeting taking place this week (Thursday 10 July), which will consider ways of making the best of use of council meetings.

    Prepared by conservative cabinet member, Cllr Ray Bloxham, the paper lists a number of matters for consideration, which, if adopted by full council, would mean restrictions for opposition councillors. These include:

    1. Referring policy discussions by committees, to full council for a general steer at an early stage.

    2. Supplementary questions being abolished, with member questions at council being routinely asked only in writing.  (Currently, members are allowed a written question and receive a written answer. They are then permitted to ask a verbal supplementary question).

    3. Greater powers for the chairman, including the ability to more easily curtail debate.

    There will also be discussions on members having greater respect for the role of the chairman and vice-chairman, abiding by the chairman’s rules at all times and members having more regard for the formality of the meeting.

    Although there are a small number of helpful suggestions, the main thrust of the paper appears to be to control, curtail and restrict ways in which opposition councillors can influence policy-making – or even have a voice at EDDC.

    There is just under one year to go until the next council elections.

    The motion challenging what the independents see as a clampdown on free speech, is proposed by me and seconded by Cllr Ben Ingham.  Cllrs Roger Giles, Trevor Cope and Susie Bond have also signed up to it.

    The motion will be debated at the full council meeting of Wednesday 23 July, which starts at 6.30pm.

    It reads:  “This council believes wholeheartedly in democracy and the fundamental right of its citizens to be fully represented by their elected members.  This council also believes in the democratic process and commits to do everything within its power to enhance the role of the elected member.”

    Recently, EDDC has seen a series of restrictions on the freedom of speech including:

    –  Recommendations to dramatically reduce public speaking at planning committee meetings.  This matter will also be decided at July’s council meeting – see here for more information – http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/stormy_debate_stalls_public_speaking_restrictions

    –  Restrictions on public speaking at all committees

    –  An agreement (contested by the independents at the April full council meeting) that any motion not immediately relevant to the business of the council will be referred to a council committee first.

    EDDC has a total of 59 councillors. There are 42 conservatives, seven independents and 10 liberal democrats.