Worcestershire County Council has a Cabinet led administration, where non-majority members of the council have only a limited role in determining how the council is run. One way in which we can have a say and hold the leadership to account is through notices of motion at full council. These allow us the opportunity to set the agenda, to request action is taken, to focus attention on an issue that we believe is important.
We may not get approval for a motion from the Conservative majority. In fact, we rarely do. However, sometimes we have limited success and steer the council in a direction we would like them to go.
I’m afraid to say that at some recent council meetings the ability of opposition members to influence the council has been diminished. There are three connected reasons for this.
Firstly, over a year ago the Conservatives introduced a time limit on council motions, providing a maximum of 90 minutes to discuss any motions on the agenda. This really restricted the time allowed to discuss often serious topics, particularly as discussion of a single motion usually exceeded 30 minutes. So, if your motion was number 4 or 5 on the agenda, it was unlikely to be discussed.
Secondly, Conservative councillors, many of whom I hadn’t heard speak at council before, have begun to string out debates by talking at length (filibustering) whilst adding very little of substance.
Thirdly, Conservative councillors, sometimes even Cabinet members, are bringing their own motions to full council.
For example, at the July council meeting a motion from Conservative members in support of Parish and Town Councillors was debated for about an hour, with everyone in complete agreement. Consequently, we only just had time to discuss the third motion on the agenda and the remaining three (two of which I had signed) were not discussed. To ensure the motions I backed were discussed at the next full council meeting, we submitted them shortly after the July meeting. So, come September the motions I supported were one and two on the agenda, plus we got a third motion in. Again there were six motions in total and again the Conservatives talked at length despite a broad consensus of support, thus ensuring that only the first three motions were discussed. Come November and the Conservatives got in early with the first two motions and then proceeded to spend the full 90 minutes discussing them! Considering that the first motion was merely stating the obvious, that we should support entrepreneurs and innovators, and the second was supporting a campaign run by the council itself, this was clearly a way to stop opposition members from having a voice.
To ensure that the motion I supported will be debated at the new full council, which is in January, we had to resubmit it straight after the November council meeting. However, an important aspect of council motions is that they often need to respond to events and decisions being taken at the time and having to submit notices of motion 2 months in advance makes that virtually impossible.
In my view, full council meetings have now become almost irrelevant, with the Conservative majority actively trying to minimise any opposition. Yet it is not reported on in the local news media and most people are completely unaware of it.
This is a mockery of democracy.