With the 20 minute public questions rule coming into operation for the first time at the Council’s full meeting next Thursday, I thought I’d have a quick look at the questions submitted to see how many issues the public question session is likely to cover. The answer is not that many.
With 10 questions being submitted by members of the public, we will be lucky if 5 are answered within the 20 minutes allocated. Why? Because at least 5 have been submitted deliberately to encourage prevarication, waffle and spin – 3 pretty good techniques if you want to see 20 minutes disappear.
Let’s have a look at the subjects of the initial 5 questions.
The councils measures to tackle global warming – what an opportunity to generate hot air. 5 minutes wasted.
Sources of economic finance re the Jarrow School Swimming Pool – not yet built, confirmed or even wanted in some quarters – what an opportunity to cover European and regional grants – 5 minutes.
Levels of European funding received within the last ten years for regeneration and social projects across South Tyneside - the inclusion of the word “European” can only lead to a waffling 7 minutes.
CSR and the recent Local Authority grant settlement – oh dear another 5 minutes.
DCLG in relation to the Councils Commission/democratic accountability – CSR, DCLG, EU, that can only mean AFM (another 5 minutes).
Without including supplementary questions, we have at least 30 minutes of questions and answers (from the first 5) re the public’s allocation.
Never mind, at least we have another 20 minutes of democratic accountability, with councillors also being allowed to field 20 minutes of questions. Or do we? Here we go again.
CPA Inspection 2008 – 5 minutes.
Plans to improve Metro System in South Tyneside – 5 minutes
Dragon site and Shields Foreshore – at least 5 minutes
Wet weather facility at the Foreshore – a good PR question, lets give this one 5 + minutes.
Fair trade policy and procurement – good one again, add a bit of waffle and the odd stutter – 5 minutes
So again we have 25 minutes minimum, the end result being 6 questions (mostly Independent’s) untabled and unanswered.
The “20 minute rule” is in effect a gagging order as it prevents democratic debate and public involvement in the representational process. It is also censorship, something which would be more akin to North Korea than South Tyneside.
Labour has played the Independents at their own game – they have dominated the 20 minute period for both the public and council sessions with fascicle questions. As a consequence, the issues which really affect the public and which concerns voters, are forced of the agenda.
So is it end game for the “20 Minute Brigade”? I suspect not – roll on February’s meeting!