Public Told to Stop Asking Questions at Neighbourhood Council Meetings

07:13 Monday 11th July 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: There’s more criticism of Neighbourhood Councils in Peterborough, which are designed to promote democracy in the city. The way they are run was reviewed, but Dale McKean went to one of the revamped meetings the other night, and thinks actually they’re worse. Let’s speak to him. Morning Dale.
DALE MCKEAN: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: What happened at this Neighbourhood meeting then?
DALE MCKEAN: Well there were discussions at the last one, and these meetings only happen every three months. And the discussion at the last one was that they would now include the Parish Councillors. So what I asked for clarity on was would the public still be able to come and contribute throughout the meeting? And I was assured then that they would be. So when Thursday’s meeting started, the Chairman immediately turned round and said, what we’re going to have is a 20 minute public session. And, by the way, the Parish Councillors would be having discussions during that 20 minutes as well. And then, for the rest of the meeting, it would be closed to the public speaking, and it would only be the Parish Councillors that would speak.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So you went along to this meeting with a long list of stuff, because there’s loads potentially going on in Eye at the moment, isn’t there ..
DALE MCKEAN: There is.
PAUL STAINTON: .. that people are upset about. So you went with a long list, and you got to number .. what .. two?
DALE MCKEAN: I got to number two, yes. After five minutes the Chairman said, that’s it. You can only ask one more question. And that was it. And then the Parish Councillors spoke for the next quarter of an hour. Then it was closed to the public to speak. The Parish Councillors then carried on with the City Councillors for the rest of the meeting. And then, the meeting ended up finishing an hour early anyway.
PAUL STAINTON: (LAUGHS) Right. All nipped off home, did they? Right. OK. So did you get anything out that you wanted to get out?
DALE MCKEAN: Well, not really. I asked when Eye village was going to get its primary school extension. I asked it of the Cabinet Member, who was one of the councillors there. And he wouldn’t give me a reassurance at all, or any date of when it would be in the budget. So the one key question I picked out of my six I didn’t get an answer to anyway.
PAUL STAINTON: I thought the whole point of these Neighbourhood Councils was that people in the neighbourhood could have their say.
DALE MCKEAN: And that is my understanding. I’ve been going to Neighbourhood Council meetings ever since they started in this area, and contributed, and had a very good input and good responses throughout the last .. whatever .. two or three years that they’ve been running. But there’s been this review. The Parish Councillors have all been invited. And then the public have been cut off, which is what happened to me.
PAUL STAINTON: And that was the whole point of them. Well we asked, obviously, the Council to come on this morning. Councillor David Over, Chairman of the Rural North Neighbourhood Committee, unavailable to come on the show. But he sent us this statement Dale. He says, “Mr McKean had the agenda in advance, which clearly showed there was a session at the start of the meeting where residents were able to ask questions. This session is limited to 20 minutes, to keep the meeting to an unacceptable time. Although it is a public meeting, people cannot ask questions continually throughout. In addition, there is an hour before the meeting where residents can ask questions of their Ward Councillors, or discuss matters in their villages. Away from the Committee meeting, there is the opportunity for residents to put questions to their Parish or Ward Councillors. These meetings are not for individuals to monopolise with questions that could quite easily be answered by their local parish councillors. I suggest that at future Neighbourhood Council meetings, Mr McKean is aware of this, and directs his questions appropriately.”
DALE MCKEAN: (LAUGHS) Well I’ve always been aware of being able to speak at the Parish Council and the City Council. This is another forum which I understand they were trying to get the public involved, and engaged. I’ve done so for the last two years at least. I understood in the Localism Bill all of this would be going on. And the new Chairman has cut it off.
PAUL STAINTON: Thank the Lord not many people go to these Neighbourhood Council meetings as well. Because if they did, 20 minutes, if more than 20 people went, you’d only get a minute each.
DALE MCKEAN: Exactly. And then he says about time, and then the meeting finishes an hour early. So there was plenty of time for people to contribute, and there would have been plenty of time for me to try and ask my six questions throughout the meeting.
PAUL STAINTON: What would you like to see done Dale?
DALE MCKEAN: I’d like to see the public be able to speak throughout the meeting. It’s dead simple.
PAUL STAINTON: Dale, thank you very much. Dale McKean from Eye. And very critical of the ability to speak at these Neighbourhood Council meetings. If you’ve been to ones where you are in Peterborough, have you had the chance to have your say?