As we all know, the Draycott-in-the-Moors area Council is our most localised representation in local government. The people of Draycott, Cresswell and Totmonslow elect seven members to the council every four years.
Each year, the council collects its share of the council tax from us, and gets to spend £10,000 of the community’s money annually.
So we have a right to expect the highest standards of behaviour from them.
We went along to yesterday’s council meeting – and some things did not impress us.
Good idea … shame about the result
The first matter we noticed was that a new initiative has just been introduced, and seems like a good idea: the idea is that ordinary people can suggest items for the agenda of Draycott Council (so long as they get them in on time). Great idea: good for democracy, good for community involvement!
Sadly, someone seems to have forgotten to get all the councillors on-side.
The first such suggestion from a member of the public to be discussed at yesterday’s meeting was that the councillors should list on the council website the community organisations they are members of. However, in reaction, one councillor mocked the suggestion, saying sarcastically: “what next – will we be asked what we had for breakfast?” while another suggested that each member of the public should phone each and every councillor if they wished to know such things. The suggestion was, as you can guess, refused.
It seems reasonable to us that councillors should tell us their electorate what community activities they support. To have the idea mocked seems poor behaviour.
Another suggestion from the public was that the achievements of the council (apparently discussed by the council back in May) should be given more exposure, and also listed on the council’s website.
Bizarrely, councillors denied there had ever been a discussion of achievements (even though the reference is clearly there in the council’s own legally signed-off minutes – click here for those minutes) and refused outright to respond to what seemed a fair suggestion. Suggestion refused…again.
Why Draycott Council should have introduced this idea – that is, to allow the electorate to suggest agenda items – only for councillors then to be so contemptuous of the public who take part in it is a bit of a mystery.
However, let’s not give up – don’t let them get us down!
Anyone concerned with democracy in this country knows that no elected body (whether it’s Parliament or a city council) goes into secret session unless there is very good reason – usually “commercial confidentiality”. Secrecy is only ever to be used as a last resort.
Yet, for the second time in as many meetings, Draycott councillors tried to force a secret session (when, that is, the public are told to leave the church hall where the meetings are held and go out into the car park).
There seemed to be no reason given. We were all there expecting some explanation – but, no, no legal reason was given – and yes, we were all told to leave. Sad to say, a majority of the councillors then voted to confirm that the public be excluded.
We’ve learnt since that one councillor simply wanted to ask another councillor a question – but didn’t want any member of the public hearing it (!)
This is crazy. A local council is not some private boys’ club; it is a serious public meeting of our representatives, about our community matters, and we (the electorate) have every right to hear such discussions.
Why such a secret session was allowed to go ahead without a formal application is a mystery; and, even though they have been asked, the council have not explained the reasoning for allowing it.
We understand that therefore a formal complaint has been lodged with the Local Government Office.
As we all know, it costs public organisations thousands of pounds to get papers printed out and posted to individuals. Recognising that, Staffordshire Moorlands District Council has informed village community leaders – such as Draycott Council – they will be getting only electronic copies of documents in future. The measure gets under way next month.
It seems to be the way of the future – though individuals can still, of course, print off those documents for themselves (at their local library if they like). Full training at special workshops is to be given to councillors who think they cannot cope with the difficulties of email (again, at huge cost no doubt).
Almost predictably for this meeting (!), Draycott Council, where some councillors are still not yet even on email, reacted badly to the announcement – and says it will protest.
We thought this was odd – shouldn’t councillors be leading the way into the digital future?
–Role of local councils
As you’d guess, the people who write on this website are passionately dedicated to localism. In fact, we don’t agree with all those people who say a council like Draycott, which does cost tax-payers thousands of pounds a year, is simply a waste of time. And, yes indeed, some important issues were discussed last night.
But village councillors should never forget: they are the elected servants of the people… and should not act as though they are the masters of the people.
After all, respect is a two-way thing.
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