Saturday, 7 July 2012

Public Question Time needed at Town Hall

This article appeared in today's Manchester Evening News.

In May I was appointed the Chair of the Council's Communities Scrutiny Committee. I was hoping that the Communities Scrutiny Committee could have a standing 'Public Question Time' item at the beginning of each meeting, inviting members of the Public to ask questions of the Executive Member and/or Strategic Lead Officer relating to their responsibilities. A number of other Councils' Scrutiny committees have a similar item (e.g. Liverpool).However I was told that this would not be possible as it is not constitutional in Manchester. Therefore I requested Council Bosses and other Scrutiny Chairs consider this issue and how we can open up the Scrutiny process more to the public.

Too much of the Council's work is done in front of empty public galleries because residents don't feel their input is valued or the decisions make any difference. I want Council Bosses to be directly answerable to any Manchester Resident that asks them a question. Allowing members of the public to have an input will make the whole Council more accountable and could help improve the Council's work. Scrutiny Committees would be able to pick up more issues that matter to Manchester's residents by actively involving them. The current system is deeply flawed because most people don't even know the option of asking Executive Councillors questions online exists, not all the questions are published, and you can only ask politicians for an answer. My proposal could be better publicised, it would be upto the Chairs to accept written questions submitted in advance, all Q&As would be in the minutes, it would allow people to directly question powerful Officers as well and it is likely that it would influence members of the Committees to ensure they put residents views first.

Sadly when this item was considered on Thursday morning it was rejected and rubbished by the Leader of the Council, Sir Richard Leese, and the Labour Committee Chairs. Various reasons were given e.g. people can use online Questions, that public question time at Council meetings used to be a farce and that this idea should be re-examined in a couple of years time when there will be no opposition Councillors. I was very disappointed that it was rejected without actually considering the merits and I will be continuing to push for it!

For reference you can ask Executive Councillors questions related to their remit at this address:

The remit of the Communities Scrutiny Committee is Community Cohesion, Crime and Policing, Domestic Violence and Abuse, Equality and Inclusion, Information and Advice Services, Older People, Respect Agenda, Youth Offending / Disorder. Please get in touch if you have any questions or suggestions about areas the Committee should examine. 

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