CAERPHILLY’S council leader has said it was “disappointing” to see opposition members walk out of the chamber mid-way through a meeting.
Plaid Cymru and Independent councillors got up and left the council’s annual general meeting this week, after a proposal to change the council’s constitution was approved.
Caerphilly County Borough Council’s constitution sets out how the local authority operates and makes decisions. The changes were presented to members on Thursday May 11, they include a reduction in scrutiny committees and a limit on questions that can be asked at full council meetings.
The opposition councillors have branded the changes as “an attack on democracy”. Following the walkout, Cllr Sean Morgan said opposition councillors had “not understood” the report.
He said: “It was disappointing, although not surprising, that opposition members walked out of the council meeting. We are all elected to represent our communities when sitting in the council chamber and the AGM is one of the most important meetings of the year.
“We may not always agree on the issues being debated, but this abdication of responsibility demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the democratic process and the public they represent.”
Cllr Morgan, who represents Nelson, added: “The refinements to the council’s constitution are intended to ensure that the democratic process becomes more efficient, inclusive and productive.
“With increased membership on scrutiny committees, and by using the all-member scrutiny which we have successfully trialled over the past couple of years, this will provide increased member input on the broader issues and overarching policies that govern the running of the council.
“I believe these changes will lead to a more open, transparent and robust examination of the council’s functions.”
What are the changes?
The amount of scrutiny committees will be reduced from five to three, which means the amount of scrutiny positions will drop from 80 to 54.
The new committees will be called: education and social services scrutiny, housing and environment scrutiny, and corporate and regeneration scrutiny.
Councillors will also be restricted to one question at a full council meeting.
Cllr Morgan confirmed that any questions that aren’t answered in meetings will be answered in writing. It is unclear if the responses will be made public or sent privately to councillors.
Additionally, only one notice of motion can be discussed per meeting, and only supported motions can be passed to full council or cabinet.
What have opposition leaders said?
Leader of the Plaid Cymru group, Cllr Lindsay Whittle, criticised the grouping of social services and education because this is where 75% of the council’s budget is spent, arguing it should have more scrutiny.
Cllr Whittle has previously said he is “incandescent” with rage at the “attempts to silence” the opposition.
Cllr Whittle, who represents Penyrheol, said: “The proposal to cut the number of scrutiny committees will mean some Plaid Cymru councillors, Independent members and even Labour councillors will not sit on any scrutiny committee.
“Surely, one of the key roles of all councillors is to scrutinise the policies and plans of the majority group – that is going to be a lot more difficult if these proposals are pushed through.”
Leader of the independent group, Cllr Kevin Etheridge has previously said the changes make it “impossible” for the independents to scrutinise the council.
At the meeting, Cllr Etheridge, who represents Blackwood, said: “I believe this report limits democracy and limits debate.”
He added: “Please withdraw the report, let it go to scrutiny committee, set up a working party and bring the report back in September.”