Cambridgeshire County Councillor Ian Manning wants to give residents a greater say by changing the rules governing petitions and public questions.
He claims the present rule, which mean petitions have to have at least 15,130 signatures before they can trigger a debate by Cambridgeshire County Council members, is stifling democracy.
Cllr Manning, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Resources wants the signature threshold lowered to 3,000 to promote open local government.
And members of the public raising questions in the council chamber should be entitled to a direct reply from a member rather than the promise of a written response he said.
“Since the rules were put in place restricting debate only on those petitions carrying 15,130 signatures or more there has never been a debate triggered by a petition,” he said.
“How can this be good for democracy and open local government?
“When residents feel so strongly about an issue that they take time to collect thousands of signatures or raise a question in the council chamber we should be listening to what they have to say. Instead they don’t get a direct response from any member but the promise of a written one instead.
“Government guidance says that the number of petition signatures required should encourage rather than discourage petitions, but the system we have in place had done completely the opposite and needs changing.”
Cllr Manning is putting a motion to the full county council meeting on July 16 to change the rules.
When a member of the public raises a question, he wants the political party group leader or nominated party member to make a statement, of no more than 2 minutes, on their party’s response and all these responses to be published on the county council’s website.
The full motion reads as follows:
This council notes:
• The current procedures for public questions or petitions allows a member of the public to address the chamber but does not require a direct reply from any members, other than to commit to a written response
• a threshold of 15,130 petition signatures is required to trigger a debate of an issue in council & no petition has reached this threshold since the rules were put in place
This council believes:
• These procedures are unsatisfactory for many petitioners or questioners, who have spent a long time collecting signatures, often speak passionately and expect rather more than to be told a response will be given in writing
• Further, it is unsatisfactory given the desire for more open local Government as the response is not published
• given that government guidance suggests the number of signatures required should encourage rather than discourage petitions, the current system is unsatisfactory.
Therefore this council will:
Change the current procedure & make the resulting changes to the constitution and/or standing orders such that:
• This council resolves to change the threshold of signatures on a petition required to trigger a debate to 3,000 signatures
• For public questions, each Group Leader, or nominated member from their party, will make a statement, of no more than 2 minutes, on their party’s response to the questioner(s), and all these responses will be published on the Council’s website
• Council authorises the monitoring officer to make any necessary amendments to the Constitution to implement these changes.