Cancelled meetings prompt claim that council is ducking democratic scrutiny

Opposition councillors have accused the Labour administration of using the coronavirus crisis to avoid public scrutiny.

They spoke out after a policy committee was cancelled for a second time even though almost all other meetings are now taking place using Skype.

Conservative councillor Lee Wares said: “It is a shame the council’s official line is that the political parties agreed to cancel the May Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee.

“The decision was taken by Labour and council officers and communicated to the opposition parties.

“There was no consultation. It was a directive out of the blue to say the meeting was cancelled because there was a lack of business.

“From that moment, we have protested against that undemocratic decision and called for the meeting to be held.

“Labour clearly do not want to be subject to any open and transparent dialogue with the public or councillors.

“I suspect the official line was confused with the agreement to postpone the March meeting.

“I am sure that the Town Hall wouldn’t deliberately put out a misleading statement.

“In any respect, cancelling the ETS Committee doesn’t make sense.

“With the exception of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee, all other committees are being held, with the public being involved.

“We even managed to hold a virtual meeting with all 54 councillors.

“Labour has now invited us to a meeting next week to be briefed on what the council has done with respect to ETS matters relating to covid-19 and what it intends to do next.

“However, Labour want that to be a private meeting with no minutes taken and no public involvement.”

The council said: “The meeting for May was cancelled in line with the agreement reached by the political group leaders.”

The meeting would have taken place this afternoon (Tuesday 5 May).

Members of the Valley Gardens Forum had hoped to ask about the £18 million Valley Gardens scheme during the committee’s regular slot for public questions.

They have been sent written answers to three questions although they had wanted the chance to put follow up questions at the meeting.

Green councillor Pete West said: “Residents of the city would be concerned to hear if there was no progress on our commitment to avert the climate crisis.

“And we have repeatedly raised the importance of continuing work to drive down toxic emissions at this time.

“It is vital that residents tackling the covid-19 crisis are not bounced into the worst of the climate crisis.

“Sadly, covid-19 has reminded us that the environment is inseparably linked to our health and wellbeing.

“In light of recent changes, many residents have concerns about air pollution, access to public toilets, space for walking and cycling and waste management.

“And though the Environment Committee is the city’s key public forum for discussion and scrutiny of these issues, residents are being asked to wait until June for it to reconvene.

“While we would not want to put an undue burden on council staff at this time, we note that other committees are still going ahead.

“Despite our disappointment at the cancellation of previously scheduled Environment Committee meetings, we are keen to work with the Labour council to progress urgent action on climate change and ask them to consider what scope or reasonable capacity there may be for a public – albeit virtual – committee before June.”

The council said: “On (Thursday) 2 April the leaders of our three political groups collectively agreed that due to the covid-19 pandemic, forthcoming committee meetings only needed to be held to deal with matters that required a decision.

“Confirmation of this approach was sent in a note to all councillors on (Monday) 20 April.

“As no reports that needed a decision were planned for our Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee on (Tuesday) 5 May, the meeting was cancelled in line with the agreed approach.

“The political group leaders are meeting every week and are briefed on the ongoing situation with covid-19 in the city as well as arrangements for member-level decision-making, including the committee work programme.

“This provides the right balance between necessary democratic oversight and the need to prioritise our time and resources on fighting the disease.

“As soon as the situation improves and we move out of the immediate crisis, we will go back to normal procedures.”

The next meeting of the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee is scheduled for Tuesday 23 June.

  1. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    I am concerned that the Libraries Plan will be sneaked through, despite the Public Consultation being curtailed by the locking down. We have beem treated so shoddily these past years that we cannot trust the Council over Libraries.

  2. Peter Challis Reply

    More policies pushed through behind closed doors without scrutiny as part of the Labour-Green pact that pushed through the Green Party inspired “pesticide ban” without having any practical alternatives, and that has, seemingly, forgotten about the Labour manifesto promised park-and-ride scheme that Greens don’t want.

    Seems that Green councillor (and cycling advocate) Peter West seems quite happy to skip the meetings questioning the Valley Gardens scheme, but oddly there is no comment from any Labour councillors and especially not from Councillor Anne Pissaridou who is the Labour chair of the ETS who must also be in favour of avoiding public scrutiny.

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