Fife Conservatives have tabled a raft of amendments to make Fife Council more transparent and accountable and to improve scrutiny both of the performance of individual councillors and the administration generally
As Fife Council confirms the structure of its administration tomorrow, Fife Conservatives will call for standing orders to be changed to give the public better access to council meetings. Conservative Group leader Cllr Dave Dempsey, who is proposing the amendments, said:
“Politicians always complain about a lack of public engagement and low voter turn-out. In return, the public complains about being excluded and ignored in Council decision-making. A key issue in Fife Council’s own research report Our Place 2016 is that people do not feel they have influence or a sense of control in their communities.
Here’s a golden opportunity for the new administration at Fife Council to get the public more involved in local politics by starting with its own procedures.”
Extensive research conducted by Fife Council for the “Our Place 2016” report identified a lack of democratic control and public accountability of elected bodies concluding:
- People don’t believe they are listened to by the authorities
- Rarely (or never) asked for an opinion
- Consultations are PR / tickbox exercises
- Planning decisions don’t reflect local views
- Some councillors are accessible – others are not
- Council officers close ranks when complaints are lodged
- The quality and effectiveness of Community Councils is varied
Cllr Dave Dempsey, who chaired one of the last administration’s Scrutiny Committees, is unhappy that the new administration wants to restrict the potential for scrutiny. He continues:
“The SNP-Labour coalition has cut one of the scrutiny committees so we’re going to have 15 councillors doing the scrutiny work that 32 did before. But what’s much worse they’ve put up the number of councillors who can get a decision called into the scrutiny committee to 20, making it impossible for opposition parties or even an area committee to get a decision scrutinised. This basically neuters the call-in function”.
The Conservatives also want opportunities to speak and ask questions at Council and Committee meetings extended. Currently members of the public have to give 10 days’ notice although the agenda and associated reports do not have to be made public until 3 days before the meeting. Cllr Linda Holt, who is seconding the amendments, said:
“Members of the public have the theoretical right to speak and ask questions at Council meetings but in practice this virtually never happens because the 10 days’ notice required prevents people speaking to an agenda item or questioning a report. We want the notice time reduced to 48 hours.
“Absurdly elected members do not have the same right as the public to ask questions at committee meetings.
“Objectors, supporters and applicants do not have the right to speak at planning and licensing committee meetings in Fife, even though they do in Angus, Perth and Kinross and other councils and they used to in Fife. This is a major reason why people involved with planning and licensing applications often feel that the decision-making process does not reflect local views. We’re asking officers to look into restoring this right in Fife.”
Although the standing orders already allow photographing and audio and video recording, Fife Council has never undertaken this itself. Unlike Westminster, Holyrood and many Scottish councils such as Edinburgh and the Highland Council, there is no web-casting or archive of video footage of council and committee meetings in Fife. Since these take place during the working day, many people cannot make it and public attendance at Council meetings is very poor.
Linda Holt adds:
“My children regularly webcast with their phones, so there is no excuse for Fife Council not making their proceedings available online as video. If the Council genuinely wants to engage with the public, this is a no-brainer.
“Everyone I have told that Fife Council does not routinely record how individual councillors vote or publish attendance records for individual councillors has reacted with disbelief. Voters have a right to know how their elected representatives vote and how diligent they are in attending Council and committee meetings.”
Additionally, Cllr Dempsey is proposing amendments to strengthen the powers of area committees and to allow multiple amendments to complex proposals, such as the Budget, to be considered and determined separately.