COUNCIL MEETING: Does there have to be so many questions?

Shute End Wokingham
Wokingham Borough Council's offices in Shute End

THE WAY in which the council handles its meetings the subject of a question from member of the public Mike Smith at the virtual meeting of the council, held on Monday, July 6. 

He said: “There are a very large number of agenda items, some of which have not been addressed despite being on the agenda since September 2019. 

“In particular, there are some 10 Members questions of which eight, submitted by Conservative members of council, seem to have little useful purpose and will consume time unnecessarily, and which will probably result in none of the later agenda items such as Motions being debated. 

“Indeed, five of these Member questions were on the agenda for the previous meeting but were withdrawn, as they were presumably deemed unimportant then and I doubt much has changed in three weeks.”

He highlighted item 27.3, which was a question from the Deputy Executive Member for Climate Emergency to the Lead Executive member for Climate emergency. 

Mr Smith said: “Surely if they both attend their sub-committee meetings and read the various reports and plans prepared for those meetings, there is absolutely no need for such a question at full Council – surely a press release would be better?”

He wanted to know if council leader Cllr John Halsall could do anything to ensure “the Council can efficiently discharge its duty to provide a public democratic process of debate on motions raised by Members, should Agenda items 27.3 to 27.10 inclusive be moved to the end of the Agenda or better yet, be withdrawn?”

Cllr Halsall replied: “The Council Meeting Agenda has evolved over a very long period and is a little arcane and predates me.

“It’s interesting that the thrust of your question is not consuming time unnecessarily and yet you ask a question which is very similar to 27.2. and does not the asking of the question – similar to 27.2 – in duplicate have the effect of endangering the debate of any motions.”

He also argued that to stop Conservative members from asking questions would effectively disenfranchise them. 

“You will appreciate that that there are five motions, four of which are Lib Dem Motions, which is two-and-a-half hours of debate for a meeting which should be three hours in total,” he continued. 

“The interests of ensuring the Council can efficiently discharge its duty” surely is an opportunity for members of the public and councillors to ask questions, to enact whatever business needs enacting and for the Executive and Chairmen of other Committees to update Council on their activities.”

Mr Smith replied by saying, “The obvious supplementary (question) is when can time be made so that these motions can be debated?”

Cllr Halsall: “That is not a matter for me, the agenda predates me.”

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Phil Creese

So the answer is that Tories ask questions of each other in meetings to prevent actual motions being discussed?

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