The Barnet Conservatives have secretly removed the right of residents to ask public questions or make public comments on members’ items raised by back-bench councillors and opposition councillors at Committees. This restricts public questions and comments to so-called ‘substantive’ Committee agenda items. Public questions and comments can now only be asked or made in relation to reports brought forward by the Conservative administration.
The change to the Council’s Constitution was made at the beginning of this year by ‘delegated authority’ with agreement from the Conservative Chair of the Constitution, Ethics & Probity Committee, Cllr John Marshall. The Committee and Full Council, which ratifies all changes to the Constitution, were not informed.
The change came to light after residents recently informed Labour councillors they were prevented from submitting public questions on a member’s item relating to libraries.
Labour councillors are now calling for this and any other unreported amendments to the Constitution to be brought back to the new Constitution and General Purposes Committee for discussion and agreement.
Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Barry Rawlings said: “This is yet another attempt by the Barnet Tories to stop debate and scrutiny of issues they don’t want aired or raised.
“The fact that they have sneaked this change through under the radar without even discussing it at the relevant Committee or Full Council suggests they know it was the wrong thing to do.
“First the Tories prevented councillors from speaking at Residents’ Forums, then they cut residents’ speaking time, and now they are restricting what questions can be asked. The Council and Councillors are here to serve residents, not prevent them from speaking out.”