The title of this particular blogpost is a direct quote spoken by leader of SKDC, Cllr Kelham Cooke (Con), at a Cabinet meeting on 19th April. The comment was in response to a question from Cllr Phil Dilks (Ind) asking why the Chair of a Scrutiny Committee had tried to prevent a member of the public from making comments at the start of a meeting on 3rd April about the Deepings Leisure Centre. Cllr Cooke’s further comments revealed that he did not understand the Constitution about which he was preaching.
It is intended that South Kesteven DC makes radical changes to its constitution at the Council meeting on Thursday 26th May. In the last few weeks, various new articles and schedules have been drip-fed to members. A real overload of paperwork as well as many hastily scheduled meetings and workshops. Nevertheless, a meeting of Constitution Committee on Monday 16th May will discuss the changes and decide whether to recommend them to the Full Council.
The proposals will be presented on Monday by Cllr Linda Wootten, the Cabinet Member for Corporate Governance and Licensing.
The review of the Constitution was supposed to be a tidying up exercise to make the document easier to read which is a challenging task for anyone. However, in the process of ‘tidying up’, Cllr Wootten is proposing that several of the rules should be changed:
- The Leader would have far more ability to ignore and/or shutdown unwelcome comments and questions
- Where Councillors request items for discussion, the Chairs of the Scrutiny Committees (currently all Conservative) would have the opportunity to delay debate for 3 months.
- Members of the public would have to register their wish to speak several days before the meeting, and submit any questions in advance. The only reason for introducing these new restrictions is, in the words of a recent edition of Private Eye, “to give slow-witted Councillors time to come up with answers to tricky questions” (see attached).
- Restrictions on the ability of Councillors to participate and contribute to the scrutiny process.
Personally, I am appalled at the proposals to restrict freedom of speech for Councillors and members of the public. Last August, the Council received a report on its scrutiny functions which was critical of the current procedures which are ineffective. The report has been deliberately hidden from public view and instead we are expected to accept rule changes which will make it far more difficult to hold our local politicians to account.
Given the recent tradition of Conservatives at a national level to make up the rules as they go along, and mainly to suit themselves, we need to be increasingly vigilant that such injustices do not continue at a local level.