Opposition councillors have hit out at the new format of Northamptonshire County Council cabinet meetings, saying the changes are preventing effective scrutiny.
The latest cabinet meeting saw a new room layout, and a new set of rules for councillors to follow - including the stipulation that questions must be submitted in advance while only party leaders or a designated councillor can ask questions during meetings.
The move has not gone down well with opposition councillors, who documented their unease at the new format at the meeting on Tuesday afternoon (November 13) at One Angel Square.
Liberal Democrat councillor Dennis Meredith said: “It’s the end of democracy. We have always been given the opportunity as backbench members to give the cabinet our views.
“I think it’s a trip in the wrong direction. I feel irrelevant and isolated as a backbench councillor now.”
Councillor Jim Hakewill is one of three independent councillors who will be given the opportunity to sit at the cabinet table and ask questions, although they may be forced to alternate from meeting to meeting.
He added: “This change of format gives the impression that scrutiny is not welcome. I think it’s sad the way it’s being done and it’s making some councillors not feel welcome.”
But the county council insisted the format change was based on ‘improving arrangements for the committee’ to be informed of the public’s views on emerging issues while ensuring that ‘meetings are managed effectively’.
A spokesman said: “The new arrangements for the meeting include spaces at the table for the leader of the Labour Group, the leader of Liberal Democrat group and a representative of the independent councillors.
“An additional space is reserved for public speakers or councillors/officers to address the cabinet.
“Members of the cabinet will continue to present reports according to the agenda, while the opposition group leaders can either ask questions on the report or nominate another member from their group to ask questions.
“Additionally, any member may submit a question pertaining to agenda items before each meeting.”
However at the latest meeting, the questions submitted in advance did not appear to have been available to members of the public who were attending.
The new chair of the council’s scrutiny committee, Labour councillor Mick Scrimshaw, also had reservations over the format change.
He said: “The new rules seem designed to reduce the amount of comments and questions. Cabinet is one of the few opportunities we get to question their decisions.
“I appreciate them saying they will respond to emails, but scrutiny wants to make the work we do open and transparent.”