Babergh: Move to attract young blood onto council looks set to be thwarted today

David Wood

David Wood

A MOVE to attract young blood to an aging district council looks set to be thwarted, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.

Babergh is currently reviewing its constitution, and as part of that, council member Nigel Bennett suggested meetings could be moved from the morning to the evening to enable younger working councillors to attend.

But instead, his colleague David Wood put forward a proposal to move the meetings from 9.30am to 11am to enable the council’s political groups to get together before each meeting in a bid to speed up the decision-making process.

This proposal is likely to be debated today, but the idea has angered younger council members including Simon Barrett, 54, who like his colleagues, works during the day.

He said: “I agree that most of the work should be done in the groups and committees before it comes to council and the idea is that the system should be streamlined so full council can just rubber stamp decisions.

“But I don’t think the 11am idea is workable and if anything it would be a retrograde step because it doesn’t help when we are trying to attract a broad range of working people, not just retired ones, to stand for council. I am already losing a morning but if we started at 11am, it would eat into the whole day.”

He said working councillors were being “compromised” because of the insistence on daytime meetings, adding: “It is totally undemocratic because you are in effect excluding working people from applying for council. The only argument against evening meetings is that it might clash with some parish council meetings but you have to get your priorities right.”

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The oldest Babergh council member is currently 83 and the youngest is 45, with just nine female councillors to 34 men.

Another working councillor Dawn Kendall said the idea of evening meetings had always been rejected in the past for a number of reasons, including that it would necessitate negotiations with council staff and that elderly members didn’t like driving in the dark nights.

She said she disagreed with the 11am proposal, adding: “If you look at the current incumbency at Babergh it does not reflect the population as a whole as most councillors are in their 70s and 80s.

“I am bemused as to why this (11am) suggestion is allowed air time at the next council meeting because it totally thwarts the original and genuine plea for more democracy.

“Babergh is out of kilter with other councils nationally and it does not reflect well with hard working families who do not have the luxury of taking time out of their day to fulfil their democratic right to see the council’s work in progress.”

Babergh’s head of corporate organisation, Peter Quirk said the timetable for meetings was a “councillor led” decision.

But he added: “The formal committee process is just one aspect of the decision making process. Officers are currently working with councillors on a community engagement process and this, along with other parish meetings, often takes place in the evenings. The council reviews the meeting times every so often and it has been suggested that we should do so again.”

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