Monday 21 January 2013

Will Brent Council continue to leave the public out in the cold?

It will be interesting to see what happens at tonight's Full Council Meeting regarding the admittance of the public.

The November 2012 Council Meeting passed the following Procedural Motion:
Councillor Butt moved a procedural motion stating that it was with considerable regret and sadness that following advice received from the Director of Legal and Procurement, in order to enable the proper democratic meeting of the Full Council  to take place, he had felt it necessary to exclude a number of members of the public who had previously caused such disruption to Council meetings and meetings of the Executive to the extent those meetings had not been able to continue without moving to another room and thereby restricting the rights of the public to observe the proceedings. Councillor Butt added that he would continue to require officers to work to find a better solution than excluding members of the public from the Town Hall.
that the exclusion from this Full Council meeting of members of the public who have caused disruption to the previous Full Council meeting and/or to the previous  meeting of the Executive and/or the Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee be endorsed.
 It seems that the democratic right to make a protest is in conflict with the Council's need to meet undisturbed to pass policies with which members of the public profoundly disagree. Recent there have been demonstrations, including occupations at Liverpool, Sheffield and Birmingham councils as they approve more cuts. Other Councils seem to manage dissent better and as I pointed out in a recent blog Barnet Council provided an over-flow room with a TV link to the council chamber when the public gallery was full during a very heated confidence debate.. I wonder if the Civic Centre has been designed so as to maximise public access to meetings?

The present policy does pose a s number of questions:
  • What does the Council constitution say about the right of the public to attend meetings or the Council's right to exclude them?
  • How does the Council define disruption?
  • How have they identified those they wish to exclude?
  • Have they provided their private security guards with photographs of the excluded?
  • If so have those who have had their photographs taken been informed?
  • Does the Council have a database of the persons concerned?
  • Is the Council or their hired security guards entitled to ask for proof of identity/proof of address from members of the public wishing to attend a Council meeting as they did at one such meeting last year?
A wider consideration is the need to consider why the public feel excluded from, and frustrated with, the 'democratic process'.  This has not only been been anti-cuts protesters that the Council probably see as the 'usual suspects' but solid middle of the road citizens concerned about the closure of libraries, sports centres, day centres and regeneration projects. The disaffection stems from consultations that turn out to be done deals, Executive meetings that rubber stamp decisions already made in pre-meetings, an Opposition that seems ill-prepared and flying by the seat of its pants, and full Council meetings with no real power but reduced to an arena for political jesting and grandstanding. As with the House of Commons it sometimes appears to be a cosy club despite political differences. 'Us against them' becomes councillors against their active citizens.

No comments: