Ealing Council Denies Procedural Changes Serve to Gag Residents

Lib Dems claim new rules for questions at meetings are anti-democratic

Cllr Gary Malcolm addresses a question to the council
Cllr Gary Malcolm addresses a question to the council

July 19, 2023

Ealing Council has robustly defended changes recently made to procedures for members of the public to ask questions at Full Council meetings.

The constitutional changes were voted through, with support from the Conservatives, at the council meeting on 11 July.

Now any questions to be put to the Cabinet at the meeting must be submitted at least five working days beforehand and are limited to 50 words rather than the previous three minutes.

The Liberal Democrats say that these changes reduce the ability of residents to set out the local concerns that have given rise to their question, and to criticise the administration's action or inaction.

In addition, it is claimed that the earlier deadline for the submissions of questions makes it impossible to raise developing issues on a timely basis.

The party says that the changes are likely to lessen engagement in the democratic process and are contrary to the administration’s pledge to be an ‘open and transparent’ council.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Busuttil, Opposition Deputy Leader said, “It seems that both Labour and the Tories are seeking to quash democratic engagement and challenge of the Council by residents. Labour want to be less accountable, they do not want to be criticised by residents, so they are stifling discussion. Labour have such a large majority in Ealing that they are more interested in their own agenda and waving through their own decisions than listening to the people or encouraging discussion. This comes at a time when Labour have been in power in Ealing for as long as the Conservatives have been in Downing Street.

“Liberal Democrats say this is another example of Labour not wanting the public to criticise them and so they are reducing the opportunity and scope for residents to engage at Council meetings. Liberal Democrats want residents to have their say.”

An Ealing Council spokesperson said, “At its last few meetings alone, the Council has radically opened procedures to encourage even greater levels of inclusive public engagement. When the council debated protected characteristic status to care leavers, young people who have experience of the care system addressed the council directly. When the council debated celebrating the contribution of the Windrush Generation, pioneers themselves addressed the council of their experiences. The council remain committed to amplifying the voices of those who often go without the opportunity to engage in civic life.

“A report on a number of proposed changes to the council’s constitution was taken to full council, including clarifying the process for members of the public to ask questions. It is hoped that this will help increase the overall number of questions that can be accepted during the limited time available at each meeting. The report, as all council reports are, was published a clear 5 working days prior to the meeting on the council’s website. In addition, an advert was placed on the council’s website inviting comments from the public, none were received. The full report is available on the council’s website.”

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