Breckland Council under fire after 16 minute full council meeting
- Credit: IAN BURT
A district council has been accused of wasting taxpayers' money and ignoring key issues after it wrapped up a full council meeting in 16 minutes.
Breckland Council members met yesterday at its Dereham offices at 10am for its monthly full council meeting, with 48 in attendance.
By 10.16am, councillors were already tweeting that the meeting was done and dusted.
Members were given the option to stay on for a further presentation about emergency planning, which took around 15 minutes.
With the cost of putting on the meetings coming to more than £1,000, yesterday's 16 minutes cost Breckland at least £62 a minute – or more than a pound a second.
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Costs include councillors' fuel and subsistence allowances, on top of their annual allowances, the production of agenda packs, and officer time.
The previous meeting of the full council, on July 17, lasted 45 minutes.
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The swift meeting led to a mixed reaction, with accusations that taxpayers' money was being wasted, while others claimed it showed the council's efficiency.
There were also claims that the council's overwhelming Conservative majority, with only seven of its 54 not in the party, meant that items tended to be pushed through with little debate.
Terry Jermy, councillor for Thetford Abbey and leader of the Labour opposition group, attended the meeting and said it was a common occurrence as councillors are not able to raise issues or question items. 'It was the quickest meeting I can remember, but it's always short. It's embarrassing.
'It shows there's no opportunity for debate or discussion within Breckland Council. There are a number of things councillors would like to debate, but there's no avenue to do it,' he said.
Mr Jermy said in recent months councillors had raised issues at the full council, only to be 'shouted down' by members.
'They have completely locked the process down to stop debate, which is totally unhealthy,' he said.
He added that he had been told the meetings cost around £1,000 to put on after a Freedom of Information request earlier this year.
Keith Gilbert, independent councillor for Watton, described the meeting as 'a joke'.
'This is the problem with the system we've got where decisions are already taken before we've even had the meeting.
'There's nowhere to ask a question unless it's on the agenda,' he said.
The district council operates a system which sees Cabinet making decisions, with some being passed on to full council for scrutiny.
The Cabinet's last meeting, on September 9, lasted 25 minutes.
Michael Wassell, leader of the council, defended the meeting, saying there was ample opportunity for debate.
'The reality is that we work with an executive group and a committee system where the decisions are made and then referenced and recommended to council.
'The effectiveness of a committee should not be judged on how long meetings take,' he said.
Responding to claims that councillors were ignoring issues, he said: 'I can't twist people's arms to bring things up in meetings, but councillors are encouraged to raise matters.'
What do you think? Is Breckland neglecting its duty, or just being efficient? Let us know by emailing email@example.com