Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Let more people speak on budget. It matters!

At City Council meetings we have a half hour slot during which members of the public (representing groups or not) can make a statement, ask a question or present a petition.

At a normal meeting this has proved more than enough (in fact on several occasions there have been no takers)

However tomorrow's budget Council meeting is clearly very different.

Large numbers of people have asked to speak, in fact are desperate to speak.

Yet it seems to date that the Council is sticking to the 30 minutes, telling anyone other than the six who got in first that the slots have all gone.

This is, I believe, a huge mistake.  It means that there are more disappointed would be speakers than there are those with slots.  It also means that we discriminate against certain groups.  Well organised groups who know the system will have got a request in very quickly.  Those who are less established (often representing marginalised sectors) will not have known the rules in the same way and will have lost out.

Either way we risk a large number of upset people who have been denied the right to have a say before a crucial decision is taken.

I raised this at the Lib Dem group meeting last night, and we agreed to ask for an extention of the time to allow more people to speak.

This won't satisfy everyone as I expect the demand is still massive, but it will at least help give more people more access.

I hope we can get this agreed.  It may mean that we as Councillors are in the meeting for a longer period of time.  But if you object to that then my advice would be not to be a Councillor.

In the longer term the Council needs to think about how to deal with heavy demand occasions.  I am going to be asking the people on the Constitutional committee (one of them is me) about whether we need better rules for managing this.  A ballot for example might make it fairer than the first come first served approach we have right now.

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