CHANGES are being implemented to dramatically change the way a council engages with the public.
Councillors on Cramlington Town Council narrowly approved a range of measures which will see a reduced schedule of meetings and a set time limit for public question time.
It has left some members angry at the decision, which is seen as a way of creating a gap between the council and local community.
Changes included restricting the time limit to one minute for any questions, preventing public from raising the same issue again within six months, requiring questions to be submitted with five working days notice, and question time being open only to electors.
In addition the council reduced the number of full council from ten meetings to six – reducing the right of people to come along and ask questions and the creation of an executive within the council who will meet 11 times a year without rights of the public to ask questions.
Proposals had been put forward to limit individuals speaking during public question time to a minute, but following a heated debate councillors agreed to allowed five minutes of question time.
Coun Barrie Crowther said: “The public who attend the meetings have continually prevented the smooth running of the council.
“Cramlington Town Council will now move on and it will make speedier and more efficient decisions. Efficient yes, because there will not be so many committees to please and so many people to satisfy.”
Coun Wayne Daley warned the council that the plans to change its committee structure and restrict the right of the public to question councillors may have been illegal since the council had failed to carry out any Equality Impact Assessments on the changes.
“Anyone with a speech difficulty, with learning difficulty, who has issues reading and writing and who is young would not be able to meet the rules, and you are also barring anyone who is under 18 from asking a question – what does that say about your view of young people in Cramlington who have a right to be heard?”
Labour and Conservative members asked for adjournment of the meeting until the effect of these and other changes could be looked at – but Liberal Democrat and one other member voted the proposal down and this and all further votes had to be carried on the casting vote of the Chairman.
Coun Ian Ayres said: “This is not in the spirit of an open and transparent Council and show total disregard for the people of Cramlington.”
Resident Tony Ives said: “If only the council tax payers knew what went on in their name they would be horrified and the only outcome of that meeting in reality was to cut the opportunity for the public to attend and ask questions.
“These folks don’t even pay lipservice to the issues of Equality and Human Rights.”
Barry Flux added: “‘Has the council decided it is too inconvenient to hear the views of Cramlington residents at monthly meetings?
“The continued tinkering with the town council procedures is becoming a farce. Councillors should stop wasting their time on deciding to reduce the number of meetings and get on with the job of making Cramlington a better town. They should listen to what residents really want on a more regular basis.”
New chairman David Shaw said: “We believe it’s time for the council to prove itself and tackle the issues that really matter to the people of Cramlington.
“For too long the council has been per-occupied with political mudslinging rather than getting on with the job we were elected to do. Certain members and some members of the public have used the Town council meetings more as a platform to attack the County Council than to concentrate on Town Council matters.
“Our first priority is to engage with more of the residents of Cramlington. We would like to see more residents attend our meetings and we would like to hear from any Cramlington resident that may have ideas or suggestions for improving Cramlington.
“We want to celebrate Cramlington and to make people proud to live here and be part of the community.”
The council is also launching a People’s Panel, to help draft a community plan for the town.