County council reform plans 'like scrapping Prime Minister's Questions', committee told
Opposition members have said they are “fundamentally” against changes at County Hall which could see their chances to ask questions limited.
Norfolk County Council is conducting a review of its constitution, with a range of changes proposed.
But opposition councillors have raised fears that the changes will stifle debate and stop them from being able to get answers from cabinet members.
Some of the proposed changes include removing questions to the leader of the council without notice and introducing procedures for dealing with items not heard in the three hour limit for council meetings.
At a meeting on Monday, Dan Roper, a Liberal Democrat councillor, argued getting rid of questions for the leader the equivalent of scrapping Prime Ministers’ Questions in parliament.
Mr Roper said: “I say that with regard to questions, and essentially doing away with all questions to the council, I am completely fundamentally opposed to it.
“I think all councillors should be because as it stands at the moment, every member has that assurance that if something happens in their division, whether it be a fire, flood, whatever, or failure of service, they have the opportunity at the next meeting, to put a question to the cabinet member or the leader.
“I don’t think that that’s something which we should be giving up.”
He also raised concerns about a lack of cross-party input on the changes, with previous reviews having a joint process.
Helen Edwards, director of governance, accepted cross-party groups have been used in the past but had “reached consensus on very little things”.
While Ms Edwards admitted that on-notice questions are “hardly ever used” she thought councillors were more likely to get a detailed response from on notice questions but accept that members may prefer questions without notice.
Councillors also questioned if the leader of the council, Andrew Proctor, had an input in the changes.
Ms Edwards confirmed that Mr Proctor had made suggestions but said the majority of the changes were her own and she took “full responsibility” for them.
Ms Edwards said: “A couple of the suggestions in here are from the leader, any member has the opportunity to make suggestions and change the constitution.”
Labour’s Emma Corlett argued the majority of councillors were unaware that the review was taking place as it had been mentioned in passing at a former council meeting.
Green councillor Ben Price proposed a new recommendation which would have set up a cross-party group to discuss the changes. The recommendation was rejected by Conservative councillors.
The changes include:
Any gifts worth more than £100 across 12 months from one source must be declared. In addition to the gifts of at least £50 which are must already be declared.
Removal of questions to the leader without notice
Move motions further down the agenda
Councillor returning motions similar to one previously rejected can do so after six months reduced from seven
Motions not heard in the meeting are moved automatically
The proposals will be brought back to the committee in July before final sign off by the full council.