Posted: Wed 20th Mar 2024

Newport Councillors Reject Claims of Democracy Hinderance due to Time Limits /

Councillors in Newport have rejected the idea democracy is being hindered due to time limits on questions to the leader.
Opposition members have regularly criticised the 15-minute slot for leader questions and answers and the removal of supplementary questions from regular full council meetings.
Labour representatives have defended the move, arguing that there are other unrestricted ways to put questions to the leader instead of “showboating” in the council chamber.
Nearly one year since the new format launched, members of the council’s democratic services remained split over its effectiveness.
Committee chairman Ray Mogford, a Conservative councillor, said the “main rationale” behind changing the system was “to allow more questions to be asked of the leader”.
He said no more than four questions had been asked of the leader during subsequent meetings, however.
“My contention is that although this was supposed to improve the fairness and number of questions to the leader, it’s actually at best stayed the same,” Cllr Mogford said.
Independent councillor Andrew Sterry told committee colleagues he had originally voted for the new system because he “thought it might work”, but now felt differently.
“I don’t think the amendment has helped at all,” he added. “There’ve been no further questions asked.”
Labour councillor Emma Stowell-Corten defended the new format, however, warning the committee against “disinformation” that full council meetings were the only opportunity for members to question the leader.
She said any councillor could send a written question to the leader or another cabinet member “at any time” and the responses would be published on the council’s website.
“There’s no lack of democracy here,” Cllr Stowell-Corten said. “We just need to be mindful of doing the best for residents, and why would you want to wait between council sessions to ask a burning question?”
Cllr Mogford said the committee’s discussion was “not about a lack of democracy” but instead “about a process we have, and is that process giving good value”.
Committee member Kate Thomas, also Labour, asked whether oral questions during council meetings could be seen as “an opportunity just to get out a party point of view across to a wider constituency when it’s broadcast”.
“I think we should be very proud that we have introduced a new way of representing democracy to the residents of Newport,” Cllr Thomas said. “No other council leader puts itself in a position where they will take on questions which they have no forward notice of.”
Cllr Stowell-Corten said: “Waiting six weeks to ask a question that a resident wants you to ask isn’t the best thing for the people that vote us in.”
She added: “Democracy has not been stymied at all. We can still ask as many questions as we like. 
“We should be serving our residents best and not showboating at council [meetings].” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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