'No debates' in Newport council meetings - claim
FULL council meetings in Newport are a rubber stamping exercise when it should be an open debate, a top opposition councillor has claimed.
The Conservative’s David Fouweather says nobody listens to the current written questions and answers set-up, and that the system makes cabinet members unaccountable to councillors.
Labour council leader Bob Bright said the system was not intended to stifle debate.
The Tory group is likely to table a motion at the next full council meeting on April 29 calling for a return to the open questioning of executive members under the pre-2012 system.
Under previous arrangements at Newport full council meetings elected members were able to ask questions of the leader and the cabinet without warning.
But following changes put in place by the Labour administration after the May 2012 election, questions had to be submitted in writing days in advance.
The opposition – who walked out over the issue at one meeting – have never been happy with the process and rarely engage with it.
Cllr Fouweather said: “The current system makes the cabinet members unaccountable to council and restricts debate.
“Full council is just a rubber stamping exercise now when it should be a good open debate.”
He said that although supplementary questions can be asked, they can only clarify the answer given and can’t probe further.
When everyone is reading prepared answers and questions “nobody really listens”.
Cllr Debbie Davies, Labour cabinet member for skills, said the opposition Tories choose not to take the opportunity to submit questions to the leader, and said the supplementary can be used to probe further.
Labour Council leader Bob Bright said: “The written question process was not intended to stifle debate but to prove a more structured focus for the questions and answers. The advance notice allows for questions to be properly researched and meaningful information to be provided at the meeting.
“Submitting questions in advance allows constructive and more detailed responses to be provided.”
Cllr Bright said research found that a substantial majority of councils in Wales were operating a process whereby questions could only be posed at council meetings by way of a written question submitted in advance.
The new process of allowing written questions at any time, rather than just waiting for the next council meeting, also gives greater opportunity to raise matters.
“Our research shows we are only one of two councils in Wales offering a formal system of questions to cabinet members at any time,” he said.
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