Is Amber Valley Borough Council ‘transparent?’
Recently Amber Valley BC has come under fire for it democratic arrangements, openness and freedom for the public to ask questions and get answers. The council has been accused by a few people in the public gallery of not being open and transparent to them. Is the council evading the electorates scrutiny and questions, or are these noises coming from a loud minority and political opportunists?
The council is certainly making more effort engaging the public than it used to. Last year the council Cabinet meetings started to move around the Borough with the aim of bringing the council as close to the public as possible. Rather than always going to Ripley this gave more people opportunity to attend a council meeting in walking distance, these events are now held in every town and many villages locally. A question and answers session is put on before all Cabinet meetings now, called ‘Have your say’ events, which have been well attended and very popular. Perhaps because you can ask a question at these events and get an answer there and then. The questions and answers have been published on a website you can visit (http://www.communityforums.org.uk/).
Also the council recently passed a new rule, allowing the use of social media at council meetings. I took the opportunity to exercise that right at the last meeting, you can see my video clips relating to this part of the meeting below. Amber Valley BC has an updated website with a wider range of news and press releases than ever before. Unfortunately even though the council is trying to be more open and engage the public a recent survey revealed that a massive 58% of people don’t know they can speak at council meetings. Also 59% didn’t know about the recent ‘Have your say’ events, and a staggering 75% of people didn’t know there’s at least 3 opportunities a month to attend some kind of council meeting.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that at the at the last full council meeting in May two members of the public expressed their disappointment of being reminded of the councils rules on public speaking in March. The minutes of the meeting record one complaint as follows:-
Sylvia Mason spoke about freedom of speech and felt that, because the [old] Mayor had read out revised guidance on public speaking at the March Full Council, this was the reason that local Councillors had been unsuccessful in the recent Borough elections
Two people who spoke from the public gallery were regular contributors, one a known far-left agitator. Sylvia Mason, often the spokesperson for a local protest group read the Mayor’s speech in it’s entirety again, substituting words and changing the meaning. But the contents of the retiring Mayors speech had already been heard by council and was recorded in the minutes, was there any need to hear it again? Is it any wonder the Council is getting bored of hearing old repeats! I was at the meeting and thought Ms Mason was just going to make a small quote of what had been said, which would’ve been okay, but she bored me to tears by reading it out in full. Surly it’s right to close down such time wasters so more time is available for the important business of the council. But maybe if she was informed there is a better forum to get answers from she might decide go there instead anyway.
Unfortunately the socialist leader Paul Jones (LAB) decided to take advantage of the publics unwitting nature, jump on the bandwagon and stir things up. Cllr Jones drove the knife in further by accusing the Conservative administration of cutting the number of meetings in 2012 because of their reduced majority and wanting to keep the public in the dark. In fact the agenda had been cleared in November on the recommendation of the Chief Executive to free the council up to administer the Police Commissioner election coming up later this year. Knowing this Jones still decided to exploit the concerns of some members of the public rather than point them towards other council meetings dedicated to public questions and where answers are given on the spot.
Cllr Stuart Bradford leader of the conservatives (CON) did make an effort to remind people of the ‘Have your say’ events all over Amber Valley. Stuart was clearly shocked by the socialist’s political opportunism saying to Cllr Paul Jones “I just don’t know how you’ve got the temerity and the brass neck.”
The next ‘have your say’ events take place on the following dates, unfortunately the council hasn’t given the full details of where exactly and what time yet, oh dear they’re trying but there’s definitely room for improvement. All I can suggest is you note the date and check the council website committee documents page nearer the time. If you click the drop down menu titled ‘committee:’ and select ‘cabinet’ an agenda should be there 5 days before the meeting telling you where and when to go in a covering letter. The Cabinet / public forum meeting dates are:-
4th July 2012 – Duffield
05th September 2012 – Turnditch
24th October 2012 – Heanor
28th November 2012 – Alfreton
30th Jan 2013 – Ripley
13th March 2013 – Belper