Last night's Constitution & Ethics committee demonstrated perfectly how a change to the governance system is an utterly pointless exercise. I spoke out about the proposal to cut speaking time at committees from 5 minutes to 3 minutes and to allocate a total of 30 minutes for both questions and speakers. I made the point that if the council read the consultation results they would see there is an strong appetite for more public engagement but that by restricting time given the public it would have the opposite effect. I also made the point about unintended consequences. Two and a half years ago the same committee made the decision to restrict what questions could be asked at residents Forums. The consequence of that was that far more questions were asked at committees. Squeezing time for questions at committees will simple force the public to ask their questions elsewhere.
The committee then moved on to discuss various aspects of the changes to the governance system and changes that would be required to the constitution as a result. Cllr Melvin Cohen insisted that the title of Committee Chair be changed to Chairman. Objections from Cllr Alison Moore that the title would be offensive to women were dismissed. Indeed Cllr Joan Scannell said "I am a lady and I am not offended" to which Cllr Moore replied I may not be a 'lady' but I am offended. Put to a vote the Conservative group voted through the change through using Cllr Cohen's casting vote. And so it went on, objection from Libdems and Labour out voted by Conservatives. Towards the end of the meeting we came to the subject of public participation. A little debate with Cllr Quigley-Turner ably demonstrating that he hasn't got a clue how the current system of public questions works. I did shout out at this stage that he didn't know what he was talking about and Cllr Cornelius had to gentle tell him that the point he was making actually didn't happen. So nice to see Cllrs making decisions unfettered by a grasp of the facts.
Yet again Cllr Melvin Cohen used his casting vote to push through the cuts to public engagement after which the meeting drew to an end. The Council say that by moving to a committee system will make it more democratic. Last night's committee showed that the current ruling group will always vote on party lines and a change to a committee system will not change a thing while the ruling group can out vote any dissenting voices. I predict the new system will be a catastrophic disaster, no clarity as to which matters get debated at which committee, lack of clarity about precisely what decisions a committee can make and what will be referred to the all powerful Policy & Resources Committee conflict and rivallry between committees and lots of reports and votes at Council. This is all about jobs for cllrs along with a lot more special allowances for so many more committee Chairpersons.
You can see video extracts of the meeting dealing with public participation here and here thanks to the hard work of Barnet Revel