Bid to cut questions to scrutiny committee chairs sparks concern

Norwich City Council is taking contracted-out services back in-house; Photo: Nick Butcher.

Norwich City Council cabinet approved its air quality. Photo: Nick Butcher. - Credit: EDP pics © 2007

Labour city councillors have been accused of trying to reduce scrutiny in meetings - but its leader insists it is just tidying up the rules.

The audit and scrutiny committees at Norwich City Council are overseen by opposition councillors, with audit being overseen by Green councillor Ben Price and scrutiny by Liberal Democrat James Wright. 

Until now, councillors attending full council meetings at city hall have been able to ask questions of the chairs of the two committees.  

But the council’s constitution working party is now looking to change that - a move which has sparked concern.

“We are very disappointed that a proposal has been made to put an end to the opportunity for questions to be asked of the chairs at full council meetings,” said Mr Price and Wright in a joint statement.

James Wright

James Wright, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Norwich City Council, - Credit: Dan Grimmer

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“This proposal, which is being put forward by Labour councillors, makes this council less democratic and less accountable.  

“We were not consulted on any potential changes and we can see no reason for them.

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"We suspect that Labour councillors are seeking to restrict debate and to make the council less transparent and open."

Green city councillor Ben Price. Picture: Norwich City Council

Green city councillor Ben Price. Picture: Norwich City Council - Credit: Norwich City Council

The pair called on their colleagues across the divide to reject it when it goes to full council in the coming weeks.

The leader of the council, Alan Waters, though, said this was a process of clearing up the council's constitution and questions were rarely asked.

"Full council meetings should be an opportunity to ask questions and scrutinise the executive - the cabinet members - about their portfolios," he said.

"These plans are transparent, straightforward and let people know where the accountability lies."

Norwich City Council Labour leader Alan Waters Picture: Ian Burt

Norwich City Council Labour leader Alan Waters - Credit: Archant

While questions to the chairs have been an option, the only times it has been used in around four years was once in November 2020 and recently by the Green's Lucy Galvin, when she raised questions about Heigham Park.

Mr Waters said this was a good example, as the question should be addressed to cabinet members.

Mr Price, who answered Ms Galvin's question, accused the Labour group of "playing party playground politics".

He said the questions allowed another level of scrutiny which should be welcomed to ensure the council runs at its best.

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