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Lack of meetings hits democracy in Suffolk, say opposition councillors

PUBLISHED: 19:00 05 August 2020

More than half Suffolk County Council's meetings have been cancelled over the last year. Picture: ARCHANT

More than half Suffolk County Council's meetings have been cancelled over the last year. Picture: ARCHANT

Archant

Opposition councillors in the Liberal Democrat and Green group at Suffolk County Council have hit out at the lack of democracy at Endeavour House after half the full meetings of the authority were cancelled over the last year.

Since July 2019, four of the seven scheduled council meetings have been cancelled at Suffolk County Council. Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, said: “Councillors at Suffolk County Council have only met for a full council meeting three times in the past year.

“As councillors, we have a duty to represent our residents and improve the work of the council – we can’t do that if meetings keep being cancelled. I have asked if the reserve September meeting could go ahead to redress some balance, but have been told that it would be unnecessary.

“A major function of full council meetings is for the opposition to bring forward issues that are important to the public, and it’s one of the only opportunities we have to influence council policy and hold the administration to account. It is so frustrating that we are being denied the chance to do this.”

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A spokesman for the county council said the extraordinary events of the last year meant it had been impossible to hold all the meetings as planned.

He said: “The decision to cancel or postpone any council meeting is taken by the chief executive in discussion with the appropriate elected members and the monitoring officer.

“The ongoing Covid pandemic has of course contributed to this as well as the winter general election. A great deal of time goes into the preparation for each council meeting and the gathering of elected members must present value, whether that is done in person or through a virtual meeting arrangement.

“In the case of the September reserve meeting date, there is no clear substantive cause to hold the meeting.”

The Labour opposition is also concerned about the lack of scrutiny – but does not think holding full council meetings is necessarily the answer.

Group leader Sarah Adams said: “There is a concern that the opportunities to hold the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council to account have been reduced.

“Take the education scrutiny committee, for example – this was scrapped three years ago and, despite strong cross-party support, the Tory leadership still refuses to reinstate this important committee.

“They may not want to face up to the chaos they have created on school transport, their years of failure regarding SEND and their flawed children’s centre cuts, but no well functioning administration should ever fear scrutiny and being held to account.”


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