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Posted by: John Brace | 7th July 2014

Councillor John Salter “when you make a decision you’ve got to do it behind locked doors”

Councillor John Salter “when you make a decision you’ve got to do it behind locked doors”

                       

Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee meeting of the 3rd July 2014

Last Thursday Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee met and there was an interesting discussion by councillors (and the independent members) on agenda item 4 (the work programme for 2014/15) and its Appendix (terms of reference of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Working Group.

This transcript below starts at about 14:38 in the video above. Apologies for any poor sound quality in the video, but microphones weren’t provided to the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee that evening.

SURJIT TOUR
One example is the issue about filming, the regulations around filming, blogging, tweeting has now become operative and will be operative by the end of this month. So that’s expected there are a number of areas where we need to ensure the constitution reflects some of those changes which are reported… so those are the key areas I’ve suggested which obviously you can add if you confirm areas of work which you feel are necessary around the committee’s remit.

COUNCILLOR LES ROWLANDS
I just have a comment. Over the years I’ve noticed that there’s been less and less public coming in to see our Councils and so forth. This has a bearing on culture as well because when you’ve got members of the public there observing the Council meeting then you know bode for somebody to start shouting all kinds of obscenities across the Chamber. So I think the level of etiquette when I first started as a councillor here was much, much higher than it is today. I think in my own mind that’s part of it because the public was involved.

Is there any way that we can err whether it’s publicising, I realise we can’t drag them in off the street but is there any way that we can work on a project where we can actually start to try and engage in meetings. I mean it’s a great start by having independents but you know participation in the Council Chamber itself ie bringing the public in to view what we’re doing. I just think it’s really sad that that has dropped off and we seem to have lost this connection with our public. We do have our own constituencies but they don’t seem to know what goes on in this Council.

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN
One of the things that came out very strongly in terms of the survey that I’m going to talk about was for Members, as I said open and accountable to backbench Members errm was that one of the ways full Council operates, notwithstanding that and I suppose we’re all guilty at some time or another of that behaviour, absolutely I put my hands up to that, but all of us felt that actually that the way full Council behaves and the idea of a that first one was just to re establish things like standing up when the Mayor comes in, those sort of things that have fallen by the way.

… not being the Chair as I need to be, he or she has that, it’s that kind of very errm basic respect really for first of all for the authority of the Chair or the Mayor, Mayor as Chair and then each other and it’s a culture but if we put our minds to work on that basis, then possibly we wouldn’t be subject to criticism as well, but certainly we wouldn’t be embarrassed to see that happening but it’s a chicken and egg isn’t it?

COUNCILLOR ROB GREGSON
The other Les, I think the timing of what you’ve just said is perfect as well, because in the Mayor’s speech he did say about it, the role of councillors and you know you should revisit how we market ourselves, how we get together and go out. Errm, I think I’ve said about it but I’ll just finish with students, full-time students and you know I was at university talking to many of the younger students who were studying politics and they weren’t even aware that you could just walk in to public meetings and I’m talking about Liverpool, you know we met outside and they drew me on what do you mean, the back cleared area at public meetings, they weren’t aware of the public gallery and obviously that could be an area we could easily promote.

COUNCILLOR BILL DAVIES (CHAIR)
I think that’s a good idea, I mean we could go to colleges and also … I’ve seen colleges go into art galleries and some I’ve seen them … why can’t they come into the Town Hall?

COUNCILLOR BRUCE BERRY
Yes, a bit more on the second point in relation to all that. While I was canvassing, errm I did go up and people were asking me if I could give if some, how many of the meetings weren’t open to the public? People do want to get involved and it’s a case of publicising it, it’s easily done in the press and people do want to attend, I’m sure we’ve even thought about that.

COUNCILLOR BILL DAVIES (CHAIR)
There’s a flip side to that, people might come along and see all the members seated in the House of Commons, Councillor Salter.

COUNCILLOR JOHN SALTER
Yeah, I mean the biggest attendance of anyone from outside is either at licensing or planning and that’s when and I’ve been on both. I’ve been where on planning where we’ve got these two rooms open and absolutely chock a block and Committee Room 1, so you know it’s only when there’s something happening really that they want to come along to, otherwise like anything it’s apathy, they’ll go ahead and do it anyway and that’s the attitude, we don’t.

You know we sit down and we do this planning and on licensing and we have one of the biggest arguments going, behind locked doors, when you make a decision you’ve got to do it behind locked doors to give you a sufficient chance to discuss.

COUNCILLOR BILL DAVIES (CHAIR)
I think as well as I remember, when I came on the Council it was electric the atmosphere it was. Errm, it was almost intimidating really and … the Council things have changed, I mean sometimes I think remarks like we’re watching paint dry and that’s true because things have changed, there’s not a lot of debate going on and if you think about by the time they have question time, then question the Cabinet and so on and before that we … have notices of motion, so things have changed now since I’ve come on.

COUNCILLOR PATRICIA WILLIAMS
If the general public know that the Cabinet is going to make a particular decision, they will turn up and they will make an issue about it and they will make representations about that.

They will also at full Council, if Cabinet have made a decision which they disagree with, you wait and see what happens about Lyndale, other people have clearly came and they speak very strongly about it and there have been times, I’ve been a councillor since 1987, so there’ve been a lot of things happening during that time, but I’ve had to fight my way in to this Town Hall on numerous occasions over these years but I believe now the committee system that we have, with the Cabinet and the scrutiny split and people think it’s a waste of time turning up and once Cabinet have made a decision it is very, very unusual for that to be changed.

So people think ‘what’s the point?’ and once they, once they’ve been here and they’ve been up in the public gallery, when their particular issue of concern has been dealt with. It’s, it’s, they’ve got to really want to be here because it’s not so easy to hear from the public gallery especially when councillors are shouting at each other and being you know disrespectful, so I think you know, we councillors have got a big responsibility to treat each other with respect and also then in mind if members of the public are here we should behave ourselves to allow people to listen, speak clearly and make sure they are welcomed into the Town Hall and you know they’re able to be here, it’s a privilege to be here but it’s also their right you know so we’ve got to make it welcoming and positively encourage people to come in.

Of course the Youth Parliament is a good way to encourage young people isn’t it to know about Council about how they can turn up at any time you know to witness what goes on. So I think a lot of it is in our hands to do something about.

COUNCILLOR BILL DAVIES (CHAIR)
Well, people, well that’s goes for our Labour Party and the party over there, we don’t do business shouting and screaming at each other especially at Council meetings and that’s the way it is. I think all sides of the Council, all parties agree on that.

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