ANDREW PELLING reports that Town Hall meetings have become even less democratic and transparent after some arbitrary rulings this week
Croydon’s new mayor Eddy Arram marked his first full council meeting on Monday by passing an arbitrary rule that works against residents being able to follow proceedings in the chamber, and by allowing the council’s chief executive to influence a decision to exclude everyone but a small cabal from having any access to information or influence on a debate on the £1 billion waste incinerator proposed for Beddington Lane.
It was a difficult night for 64-year-old Arram, as the one-time council office manager, when thrust to centre stage, fluffed his lines over agenda items and got the names of three councillors wrong.
Slouching in his mayoral chair, Arram, a councillor for Ashburton ward who has represented the Conservatives for 32 years, spent much of the time in the meeting chatting and smirking with officers, apparently not bothering to listen to the debate.
Although iPads and Blackberries are permitted for use in the House of Commons – one of the borough’s MPs has been observed Tweeting through a Westminster session rather than paying close attention to his own minister’s speech – new guidance was issued at the start of Monday night’s Croydon Council meeting that use of cellular equipment was banned, “as it interferes with the sound system”.
Is blaming the technology really a satisfactory excuse in the 21st century?
This edict had the effect of restricting live Tweeting by residents at the meeting, to the advantage of the old-fashioned press in the press gallery populated by the Redhill Sadvertiser.
The decision was another blow against democracy and transparency in Croydon; it is now nearly four years since the the scrapping of live streaming of council meetings, on grounds of cost. Such restrictions will have been a blow to Tim Pollard, the deputy leader of the Conservative group and a confirmed advocate of the use of new media to engage the electorate.
When the latest, arbitrary rule was queried on Monday, Mayor Arram – who has a day job working as a constituency gofer to Conservative MP Gavin Barwell – warned that the questioner would be removed from the chamber because “the meeting is for councillors, not the public.”
The council then moved on to debate whether it is right to ban the public and 50 of Croydon’s 70 councillors from meetings and from receiving information about the proposed Beddington Lane incinerator.
Jon Rouse, Croydon’s £248,000 per year chief executive, warned that officers of the council were empowered in law to deny councillors access to information as elected representatives.
The Conservative majority endorsed the CEO’s position, with senior councillor Phil “Two Permits” Thomas saying that since Labour councillors had failed to attend many public meetings about the incinerator, their complaints about banned access were just about party political trouble-making.
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