Monday, 1 July 2013

Lobbying: follow-up

Following on from the piece last Monday Futures Forum: Lobbying 
there have been a couple of developments.

EDBF TAFF:                                                                              

The District Council's Overview & Scrutiny Committee's TAFF met to consider the East Devon Business Forum:

The Minutes have just been released:


The TAFF is to consider process:

To note the change of scope of the TaFF as agreed at the Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting on 28 March 2013  “that the remit of the Business Task and Finish Forum include employment land planning issues (but not individual planning allocations) without delaying the development of the Local Plan or impinging on the Police investigation currently being carried out”.
Members noted that there had been public concern expressed over the method of considering and deciding employment land provision in the Local Plan. The Chairman noted that the TaFFs remit was to look at the Council’s process in
considering employment land availability but that this should not delay the forthcoming consideration of the Local Plan.

There has been considerable praise for the Chair of the TAFF:

Framework agreed for scrutinising EDDC industrial land

Claire | Monday, 24 June 2013
comments (1)

In a meeting that could possibly have made the Guiness Book of Records for its speed this evening (it lasted half an hour!), a framework was agreed for examining the process by which the levels of employment land in the Local Plan, came into being - and the role played by East Devon Business Forum.
Agreed by the rather thin on the ground members of the East Devon Business Forum scrutiny committee, this evening, was the following remit, proposed by me:
“To consider the appropriateness of the amount of employment land provided in the East Devon local plan, and the methodology for reaching this level of provision, including possible flaws in the analysis employed.
“To establish clearly the process by which land allocations were suggested, and by whom.”
The group was restricted following the rules agreed at the full council meeting last month.  The resolution at full council stated the following:  “That the remit of the business task and finish forum include employment land planning issues (but not individual planning allocations) without delaying the development of the Local Plan or impingeing on the police investigation currently being carried out.”
Many thanks to Cllr Graham Troman, the committee’s chairman, who has doggedly pursued this issue - and to those who made helpful suggestions regarding a possible framework for the committee to look at planning.
There will be another wait for the next (I believe fourth) meeting though, as it isn’t until Monday 2 September, at 6pm, in the council chamber.

The TAFF is to consider polling East Devon businesses on the EDBF and its possible successor the EDBG:
Steve Kendall Tory from the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce suggested that sending out questionnaires through Business & Tourism Groups and Chambers of Commerce would be the cheapest and most cost effective way of receiving feedback from businesses. 
RESOLVED that preparations for a survey of business be delayed until the East Devon Business Group was fully established and that advice be sought from this Group on the best way a survey/questionnaire could be sent to businesses in East Devon. 

There have also been comments about how the District Council conducts its consultation processes:

East Devon Business Forum scrutiny taff agenda out

Claire | Monday, 17 June 2013
comments (2)

The latest East Devon Business Forum scrutiny task and finish forum agenda has been published.The agenda items are: a breakdown of the budget, options for a questionnaire to the business community, and employment land issues. There is a copy of a press release that prompted the story in this week’s Sidmouth Herald at the back of the paper. [see below]

1. At 12:27 pm on 18th Jun Tim Todd wrote:
I am particularly interested in the element concerning the questionnaire/survey for the business community.
At long last, what I have been repeatedly been on to them about, the validity of their past questionnaires/consultations, seems to be sinking in. (See previous FOIs at whatdotheyknow.com)
Notice what they say about self-selecting respondents “If the survey is
self selecting i.e. we have no control over who completes it, then the results cannot be extrapolated to the whole population and we do not know who has completed it”.  I did of course point this out to council when an officer had told me that their Exmouth survey was a valid consultation. Personally I can only read the above statement from them as an admission that their methods in the past have been inept, inaccurate and inappropriate.
I am very pleased to see signs of progress but bandying a few comments concerning methodology about is not evidence that they have got it right. I do hope, and will be suggesting, that any survey is trialled in the proper way to ensure that the questionnaire is robust, appropriate and that the proper means to independently evaluate it are in place. Otherwise chances are that it will be as useless as others have been in the past

And here is that story from the Herald on the newly-emerging replacement to the EDBF:
[See also: Futures Forum: East Devon Business Group]

New business group for East Devon

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
It wants representatives from as many business organisations as possible, including chambers of commerce and trade associations to join up. The aim of the group is to ‘recruit a broad range of businesses and business groups in East Devon, so that it can identify opportunities that will benefit local businesses and also identify the barriers to business and business growth’.The new East Devon Business Group is for all – whether it be sole traders or large manufacturers in the region - says its organisers.
The East Devon Business Group will be entirely business-led and largely self-funded with regular meetings for members.
Serving councillors will not be eligible to serve as officers but, where appropriate, representatives from authorities at local, county and regional level will be invited to attend in order to hear the considered views of business.
Nominations for a chairman are being sought and need to be received by the group before its next meeting at the Deer Park Country Hotel, in Honiton, on Thursday, June 27, at 5.30pm.
An extraordinary general meeting will follow at the same venue on Thursday, July 18, at 5.30pm.

Standards Committee:                                                           

The issues around lobbying have been addressed by another District Council body, the Standards Committee.
The Minutes of the meeting of 18th June are still not available, although here is the Agenda:
And a report from the Express & Echo, together with comment:

Call for tighter rules on planning conduct

Thursday, June 27, 2013
Profile image for Exeter Express and Echo

A CALL has been made for East Devon District Council to ensure no councillor can act as an agent for planning matters.
Councillors on the authority's Standards Committee recently debated new Government guidance reflecting changes introduced by the 2011 Localism Act.
The publishing of the guidance in April came a few weeks after revelations about former councillor for Feniton and Buckerell, Graham Brown who resigned his seat after he was caught on camera boasting that he could secure planning permission as part of his professional work as a planning consultant.
But it is not illegal for councillors to work as paid consultants.
The forum was set up to "improve communication" between businesses and the district council. It received about £5,200 of financial support a year from the council. But the forum proved controversial with critics branding it as a "a lobby for developers" and a task and finish forum was set up to look into the workings of the group and its relationship with the council. The council has since withdrawn officer support from the group which has been reconstituted and renamed the East Devon Business Group. Police are investigating whether Mr Brown committed a criminal offence.
Mr Brown's successor, councillor Susie Bond, who is on the Standards Committee, requested that the guidance which states that officers and serving councillors must not act as agents for people pursuing planning matters within their authority even if they are not involved in the decision making on it – should be written into the council's constitution.
The council's monitoring officer is looking into her request.
The guidance also states that lobbying is a normal part of the planning process, but if any councillor, whether or not a committee member, speaks on behalf of a lobby group at the decision-making committee, they would be "well advised" to withdraw. This is to counter any suggestion of influence on committee members by their continued presence. It was recommended that this should be set out in a council's code of conduct for planning matters. The guidance also clarifies how councillors can get involved in planning discussions on behalf of their communities in a "fair, impartial and transparent way". It affirms that the key aim of the planning system is to balance private interests in the development of land against the wider public interest. It states that councillors should not favour any person, company, group or locality – or put themselves in a position where they may appear to be doing so. And the process should leave no grounds for suggesting that those participating in the decision were biased. It states that members of a planning committee, Local Plan steering group, or the full council when the local plan is being considered, need to avoid any appearance of bias or having predetermined their views. The report endorses pre-application discussions between a potential applicant and the council but stresses that discussions should take place within clear, published guidelines.
Cllr Bond said: "How can you possibly act as a councillor at the same time as a planning agent? It seemed perfectly logical that the guidance issued on councillors acting as planning agents should be immediately enshrined in the council's constitution."

Councillor speaks out on new planning conduct guidance

Claire | Thursday, 27 June 2013
comments (3)

New independent EDDC councillor, Susie Bond, has spoken publicly about her concern over councillors, who also act as planning agents.
In a story in today’s Express & Echo, Cllr Bond, said “it seemed perfectly logical” that the new guidance issued by jointly by the Local Government Association and Planning Advisory Service, should be “immediately enshrined in the council’s constitution.”
Cllr Bond was referring to a Standards Committee meeting last week [see below] where it was proposed that the new guidance should be subject to consultation with officers and councillors before a decision is made on whether it is endorsed.
I am sure that Cllr Bond, who replaced Graham Brown, speaks for many people and at least some councillors. She certainly echoes my own views and those of Roger Giles.

1. At 12:05 am on 28th Jun Conrad Black wrote:
The only thing that should be causing deep concern is the fictional idea that Councils have the ‘authority’ to ignore the direction of both central government and the electorate.  It would be easier to judge Councils by those that ‘debate’ allowing Councillors to have obvious commercial conflicts or prevent allowing filming meetings, and those that get on with implementing,  So if EDDC fail to implement promptly, maybe they need to fall on their swords?  Or would they prefer to have the electorate ask what it is they are hiding?

2. At 11:04 am on 28th Jun jessica bailey wrote:
I can see no grounds for a consultation. Frankly having any consultation at all makes the council look ridiculous. Do they seriously consider that not implementing is an option?

3. At 12:02 pm on 28th Jun Tim Todd wrote:
Conrad, I am afraid that there are some at EDDC who could not care less what their electorate think of them so don’t get you hopes up. I contacted one of my own councillors a while back to enquire why she had voted in a particular way- a perfectly polite and reasonable request I thought.The eventual response was that she had already explained her opinion (presumably at the meeting concerned though I could find no trace of her comments and of course there is no recording) and that she wasn’t going to do so again. I am told that she does not intend to stand again - I hope that is so.
On the recording side, it is noticeable that there seems to be no lead from officers to comply with government recommendations on this matter yet they can be rather speedy on other matters.

And in an entry in Cllr Claire Wright's blog from the previous week, it is clear that issues around lobbying were discussed at some length at the Standards Committee meeting of 18th June:

EDDC to consult on new guidance re cllrs as planning agents

Claire | Thursday, 20 June 2013
comments (5)

East Devon District Council is set to consult its members on new national guidance, which advises against councillors acting as planning agents within their own authority area, even if they are not decision-makers on planning applications.
At Tuesday’s (18 June) Standards Committee meeting, an officer took the committee through key elements of the new guidance, which was published in April, by the Planning Advisory Service and Local Government Association.
The first issue the officer drew the committee’s attention to is set out on agenda page 28, which referred to committee members or ward members speaking on behalf of lobby groups.  See link to agenda papers here - http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/combined_standards_agenda_180613.pdf
The guidance advises that councillors speaking on behalf of lobby groups should withdraw from the meeting once any public or ward member speaking opportunities had been completed “in order to counter any suggestion that members of the committee may have been influenced by their continuing presence.” 
The officer advised that this may mean going beyond the practices that EDDC currently operates.
Cllr Alan Dent asked whether this meant if he was speaking up for residents, did that mean he was speaking on behalf of a lobby group?
The officer replied that this was a “matter of judgement.”
Committee chairman, Cllr Graham Godbeer, said he thought that this would only apply if the councillor was actually appointed to speak on behalf of a group.
The officer turned to agenda page 24 of the guidance, which contains the paragraph that states:  “Officers and serving councillors must not act as agents for people pursuing planning matters within their authority, even if they are not involved in the decision making on it.”
This was guidance rather than law, the officer advised and EDDC doesn’t have “an absolute bar” on councillors acting as agents.  It was open to debate, said the officer and suggested that there should be consultation with officers and members, before a decision was made.
Cllr Susie Bond asked: “As the ward member for Feniton and Buckerell,” (former Cllr Graham Brown’s ward) whether the guidance on councillors acting as agents could not simply be incorporated straight into EDDC’s constitution.
Independent committee member, Ray Davison, immediately seconded Susie’s proposal and made references to EDDC’s reputation in relation to planning matters.
Parish council member of the committee, David Mason, also voiced his strong support for this approach.
But no vote took place. 
The officer replied that the council needed to check whether there were any councillors who were also planning agents. There needed to be consultation before any decision was made, the officer repeated.
Instead, the chairman said the issue would be debated further at the next standards committee meeting on Tuesday 23 July, at 10am, at EDDC’s offices, Sidmouth. The press and public are welcome to attend.

1. At 12:56 pm on 20th Jun paul johnston wrote:
It seems to me that the situation should be quite clear, and after the events of the last few months, it is surprising that any debate should be necessary. Essentially a councillor needs to choose between serving his/her constituents as their elected representatives or serving the interests of his/her business of planning agent. To avoid misunderstandings (or worse) it needs to be one or the other. It cant be both….

2. At 04:02 pm on 20th Jun Roger Giles wrote:
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the Standards Committee, as I was talking with Kings School students about ethics.
I cannot conceive of any reason why a council would not accept the guidance of the Local Government Association/Planning Advisory Service that councillors “must not” - note “must not, not “should not” - act as agents for planning applications within their own authority.
For a council that suffered the reputational damage of “Browngate”, one would have thought that the guidance would have been accepted with alacrity.
What possible reason can there be for consultation? What possible justification can there be for not adopting the guidance at the earliest possible moment?

3. At 04:54 pm on 20th Jun anita jennings wrote:
How about retired councillors given the title of “aldermen”  —should they be
permitted to act as planning agents for applications within EDDC?  What is your reaction?

4. At 03:52 pm on 24th Jun David Daniel wrote:
The enduring lesson, from past reputational management disasters in business and government, is that the longer it takes to act, the deeper that action will eventually have to be to restore confidence and purge the taint. We live in a digital age where everyone can quickly access and swap information. Regrettably, or maybe as a result of this, we live in the moment of some quite shocking revelations of failure in institutions where the highest probity should prevail e.g. the police and NHS. I don’t believe that it is credible for EDDC to claim of Councillor Brown, without any investigation: “His actions however are considered to be a one-off with a limited risk of a repeat.”  The historical background to all this is widely known and obviously EDDC failed to learn the lesson before. To stop all those associated with the council: councillors, officials and, yes, those with honorific titles, from acting as agents for planning application within the authority would seem an obvious first step. The fact that no one is prepared to do this “at a stroke” speaks volumes.

5. At 07:26 pm on 24th Jun Tim Todd wrote:
Just a follow up to David Daniel’s comments about Cllr Graham Brown and EDDC considering it as a ‘one off’. 
Graham Brown could not have achieved what he boasts of achieving without help from others, he did not operate in a vacuum. Others too may expect to be investigated in the course of time.
In the meantime we wait for a full and independent inquiry..

In the last comment to this entry, reference was made to the Agenda item from another District Council body, the Audit & Governance Committee:
There are two risks which are currently scored as high risk:
Failure to manage the Council's reputation through engagement with the press - 
Impact: Serious 
Likelihood: Very Likely
Perceived reputation of the service by local community causes preventable demand through complaints - 
Impact: Major 
Likelihood: Very likely
This risk has been re-scored in light of the recent events in relation to former Cllr Graham Brown which will have implications for our reputation in the future. His actions however are considered to be a one off with a limited risk of a repeat.

But to continue with the Standards Committee
On the Agenda of the meeting of 18th June, the main item was in fact to consider "Public speaking at committee meetings".
The View from Sidmouth reports:

26th June 2013

EAST DEVON: Calls to cut marathon district council committee meetings

By Anders Larsson.

Some district councillors have started a campaign to prevent another marathon meeting of East Devon District Council’s Development Management Committee. The meeting on Tuesday, June 11th included many controversial applications and lasted for 11 hours.
Although not a member of the development management committee, Axminster district councillor Douglas Hull attended and spoke at the meeting. He told Pulman’s View: “No councillor or officer can stay fresh for that long and think clearly about planning.”
Apart from the fact that the meeting lasted 11 hours, the load of applications meant that committee members’ one-hour lunch break was delayed and cut down to 20 minutes.
Councillor Hull, who is the deputy leader of the Lib Dem group on EDDC, said one option could be to split the district into two geographical areas and have one development management committee for each area on separate dates.

Councillor Hull raised the issue during a Standards Committee meeting on Tuesday, June 18th – and he will also raise the issue when he and Lib Dem group leader Brenda Taylor (Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh Ward) meet with EDDC chief executive Mark Williams next month.

An EDDC spokesperson said: “The debate at the standards committee was about public speaking rather than purely the length of meetings, though of course those two issues are linked. Instances such as the long development management committee meeting are rare, but can come along if we have a particularly busy time on major applications or items on which many people wish to speak.” A high number of public speakers will inevitably lead to longer meetings, but councillors appear split as to whether it would be a good idea to impose restrictions. The EDDC spokesperson said: “There were no formal recommendations about public speaking, other than resolving that officers work up some recommendations from the discussions - there were a number of suggestions but these need some thought into how they might work practically - and present these at a special standards meeting provisionally scheduled for Tuesday, July 23rd.”

In a separate move, independent Ottery Rural councillor Claire Wright has asked another committee to get involved with the public speaking issue. She said: “I have emailed the chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee, councillor Tim Wood, asking for the issue of public speaking to be brought before the committee.” 

Referring to the debate at the standards committee, she said: “The debate started with references made to the marathon planning committee meeting, which lasted 11 hours. I did not recognise the description of queues of people waiting to speak at most meetings – full council and scrutiny, for example.  It was different at planning committee meetings but this could be helped by effective chairmanship - after all planning committee members are not always concise and often repeat each other. I agreed that there had been more people wanting to speak at meetings recently, but these small number of people speaking or asking questions were not delaying meetings significantly. And it was hardly surprising given the levels of controversy recently, that more people did want to attend meetings and make statements or ask questions.”

View From Online - News from West Dorset, East Devon & South Somerset

In other words, “The debate at the standards committee was about public speaking rather than purely the length of meetings."
Here is further comment on that same meeting of 18th June:

EDDC councillors propose changes to public speaking rights

Claire | Wednesday, 19 June 2013
comments (6)

Councillors came up with some proposals for altering public speaking rights at council meetings, at yesterday’s EDDC Standards Committee meeting. But no formal recommendations were voted on and the subject has been deferred for a further debate at the committee’s next meeting, on Tuesday 23 July. The debate started with references made to the marathon planning committee meeting last week, which lasted 11 hours.

Cllr Frances Newth was in favour of the South Hams Council model (outlined on page 11 of the agenda papers) which limited public questions to no longer than 50 words in length.  She expressed concern about people making statements instead of asking questions.

Cllr Alan Dent said he had mixed feelings about public speaking rights.  He made references to emotional speeches from members of the public, with little or no planning related arguments. He said councillors on the development management committee (planning committee) often have to clear out “dross” from their minds before being able to focus on the planning issues.  Cllr Dent was in favour of limiting speakers to five for and five against.  He added that it was healthy to allow people to be able to let off steam as well.

Cllr Susie Bond thought time was wasted in people getting ready to speak to the planning committee and that people should be encouraged to come forward and be ready to speak early.

David Mason (the parish council representative) suggested that it seemed that the standards committee was making policy based on one long meeting.

Cabinet member, Cllr Ray Bloxham, told the committee that it should re-examine its current rules on public speaking because in his view, they weren’t being adhered to.  He said that the three minute rule relating to asking questions was being taken up with people making statements. He said that during the last 8-9 months public questions were being taken up by the “same speakers speaking on the same subjects.” Cllr Bloxham insisted that this prevented a “general flow of questions.” “We don’t have equality of access,” he said. He suggested that if there was a protest group then someone should be appointed to speak on its behalf, in which case the spokesperson could be allotted five minutes. Cllr Bloxham then said he was “dismayed” about the coverage on this issue in the local media, relating to EDDC described as trying to limit public speaking.  Instead, he insisted, the council was trying to maximise public engagement, but the abuse of public speaking needed addressing. He finished by stating that development management committee meetings should have public speaking on all matters, not just planning applications, but in his view, this should not mean that people should have to sit through two hours of policy issues.

Cllr Douglas Hull said he would prefer the question put before any preamble that a member of the public outlined as part of their question.

Cllr Susie Bond suggested that planning committee meetings might take place twice a month if agendas were that big. She said she would hate to see anything, particularly at planning committee meetings, that would reduce the public’s right to speak. She said that a lot of issues could be resolved with good chairmanship.

EDDC’s Independent Person on the standards committee, Alison Willan, agreed with Cllr Hull on the question being put first. She said it would help the recipient with time to think about the answer.

Cllr Peter Bowden thought that if a member of the public made a statement rather than ask a question, the chairman could stand up and close the meeting.

There was then a series of recommendations put forward, including:
1. the question should be asked at the beginning of the allotted time
2. members of the public are given three minutes to “amplify” their question, as determined by the chair
3. The question should be submitted in advance and projected onto a screen

There was then a discussion around how long in advance questions should be submitted. Submission of questions in advance, it was said, was to increase the likelihood of questions being answered, as the answer could be found beforehand. 
At this point, my mind drifted to the numerous times at full council meetings that I had submitted a written question, several days ahead and not had a satisfactory written answer, asked a supplementary question at the meeting but still not had a proper answer.  Invariably, at full council meetings I end up waving my hand at the chairman, saying that I had not received an answer to my question.  And invariably, the chairman replies that I have had “AN answer” and moves the meeting on.
Some members of the committee thought that submitting a question three days ahead was too restrictive, but Cllr Dent said any option for flexibility was “a fudge.”
Ray Davison, a standards committee member external to the council suggested that members of the public present might like to comment on the proposals. He also reminded the chairman that I had my hand up to speak.

Members of the public gave their views, which were largely related to ensuring the question was answered, flexibility around submitting questions in advance (if this was the proposal) and not enforcing a strict rule.

I told the meeting that I hoped that the proposal to allow public and ward member speaking on policy issues at the planning committee, would be captured in the recommendations. I added that I did not recognise the description of queues of people waiting to speak at most meetings – full council and scrutiny for example. It was different at planning committee meetings but this could be helped by effective chairmanship (after all planning committee members are not always concise and often repeat each other)! I agreed that there had been more people wanting to speak at meetings recently, but these small number of people speaking or asking questions were not delaying meetings significantly.  And it was hardly surprising given the levels of controversy recently, that more people did want to attend meetings and make statements or ask questions.

I said that what is being proposed, especially in relation to setting up a system of advanced questions, could be perceived by members of the public as a desire for more control, rather than a system that would help residents. So with that in mind, I asked for the subject to be brought before the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member.The chairman asked me if I did not trust the standards committee deal with the issue.  I replied that it was a public interest issue and it was appropriate that it came before the scrutiny committee.

Cllr Peter Bowden was not in favour of referring the matter to the scrutiny committee as he said it might overload the committee. Officer advice was that if it fitted into the timetable then it could be put before the overview and scrutiny committee.

I have now emailed the chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee, Cllr Tim Wood, asking for the issue of public speaking to be brought before the committee.

[see Futures Forum: Lobbying part 2]

It was agreed to discuss public speaking rights at the next standards committee meeting on Tuesday 23 July, at 10am.  The meeting will be held at Knowle, Sidmouth and the press and public are welcome to attend.

1. At 06:43 pm on 19th Jun John Artmony wrote:
Why not find out what other councils do, prepare a paper showing options / best practice and then choose a sensible approach rather than trying to reinvent the wheel..  Bonkers trying to look at his from scratch.  There are many other approaches out there.  Evaluate them.
Pushing this around loads of committees ends up with a line of least resistance rather than the best solution.  Oh and why not, before looking at other approaches agree on some basic principles against which to assess the options.  It is usually easier to agree principles first before everyone lobbies for their position…

2. At 07:56 pm on 19th Jun Sandra Semple wrote:
Interesting that there were almost as many views as there were councillors.
It contrasts so strongly with other meetings where majority party councillors appear to think and speak in exactly the same way.
Are our majority party councillors starting to think for themselves?  Or was it the presence of the “independent person” that changed the dynamics?

3. At 09:03 pm on 19th Jun Val Jones wrote:
As someone who has, over the last couple of years, attended committee meetings and spoken, I think it is important that we “Joe Public” are given an opportunity to speak and put a point of view.  Very often a planning application affects that person directly and might greatly impact on their life so they should have the chance to address the members and explain the situation.
I have to say that I had no idea that the public participation was merely to ask questions, but thought it was to reinforce the situation “on the ground” so to speak.
Three minutes would seem about right for the time allowed.  The problem with submitting a question or indicating what you are going to say in advance, is that it often changes depending on other speakers ahead of you.  I have often re-written my “comments” at the meeting. 
Remember too, that for many people to stand up and speak (or in this case sit and speak) to a crowded committee meeting takes a lot of courage.  In the interests of democracy and transparency the right to speak should remain.

4. At 11:22 pm on 19th Jun conrad black wrote:
It is impertinent to demand that members of the public have the professional abilities of a barrister (say) in order to put a question.  For many people, explaining the ‘why’ of the question is just as important as the question itself.  If the relevant PUBLIC committee do not understand why the question is being asked how can they possibly know how they should answer it or what is actually important?
There is all the world between getting AN answer and getting THE answer.  The public are disgusted when they are ‘fobbed off’ with non answers.  They are not stupid.  They know when it is quite clear a committe has not the slightest intention of listening to them.  And both elected and permanent officials should be aware that failing to explain why you do not support the question is treating the questioner with contempt.  It might make for longer meetings, but the system is not about the convenience of councillors - they wanted the job in the first place.  Committees of public authorities are not run for the convenience of elected members.  They are run to give expression to the electors and to ensure that the democratic process is not merely done, but is clearly seen to be done.
So, yes, 3 minutes should be adequate, per person: but the idea of putting ‘written’ questions is rediculous.  Officers are only too fond of updating information ‘on the night’ leaving the public to respond dynamically.  So it would be completely unacceptable to allow anyone to bring about last minute changes, denying the public the right to challenge new information.  Of course that could be solved by refusing updates by officials several days before public comment?  That may not have the effect of speeding the decision making process since the public could more effectively challenge claims and statements being made?

5. At 11:10 am on 20th Jun Sandra Semple wrote:
This is all about councillors wanting advance notice of questions so that they can prepare spin answers.
This week’s Audit and Governance agenda says that one of the biggest risks to EDDC is the damage to its reputation.  Its answer?  More resources for the “Communications” department to protect said reputation.
With the most recent Communications Manager having quit after less than a year in post I suspect that its reputation needs more than money for spin throwing at it. 
But that is the EDDC way:  it’s your (the public’s) fault not ours (councillors and officers).

6. At 11:37 am on 20th Jun Roger Giles wrote:
Interesting that Cllr Ray Bloxham said at the meeting that he was “dismayed” about coverage of the matter of public speaking at EDDC in the local media. One wonders if he was dismayed that the Sidmouth Herald printed his press release on 7 June in which he is quoted as saying: “This issue is yet another example of blatant scaremongering for political gain by a small number of independent opposition members”?
independent opposition member at EDDC


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