Keep politics open to all

You may have read about how I will be tweeting live from an important SUSCOM meeting at Central Bedfordshire Council, as there will be a vote on whether or not to exclude members of the public from important decision-taking sub-committee meetings; here is what it’s all about.
You can follow my tweets @adamzerny on Twitter, on Tuesday, 24th January, from around 9.30am, or follow the live Twitter feed on the homepage.

What is SUSCOM?

SUSCOM is the Central Bedfordshire Council committee of councillors which deals with the overview and scrutiny of the council’s ‘Sustainable Communities’. Sustainable Communities covers areas like transport, planning and economic development. At a meeting last June, SUSCOM voted sub-committees (or Task Forces, as they often call them) of SUSCOM would still be able to meet in private without the public and press attending and that these sub-committees could, if necessary, report directly to the Executive i.e. bypassing full SUSCOM meetings entirely; the very committee that is there to scrutinise recommendations.

Why is this important?

Whenever any big planning or transport issue comes up, such as, another big housing development, changes to traveller sites or roads planned for an area – a perfect example would be the housing estates planned for Potton in the next ten years – these sub-committees will start looking at it before anyone else. It is vital the public has the opportunity to scrutinise what is going on at the earliest possible stage.

What is happening now?

Public scrutiny is back on the agenda and when members of SUSCOM meet – in public – this coming Tuesday 24th January, they will have the opportunity to vote on three options. This is definitely a step in the right direction and must be attributable to the public pressure which has built up in opposition to the original decision. Residents in Stotfold have been protesting about ‘being locked out’ for over three years now.

The details are at item 16 on here:

“In the absence of a Development Strategy Task Force, the options set out below represent potential ways forward for the development of planning policy. There are three options which Members are invited to consider.
(A) To form a formal sub-committee of Overview and Scrutiny Committee to receive officer reports and which would be fully accessible to the public. All recommendations from the sub-committee would be sent to Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
(B) To form an informal task and finish groups drawn from Members of Overview and Scrutiny Committee, meeting in private to receive officer reports. All recommendations from the task and finish groups would be sent to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
(C) Overview and Scrutiny Committee receives officer reports directly but preceded by Member briefings open to all Members as considered expedient.”

However, the councillors are being encouraged to vote for option C which allows private briefings for members without public scrutiny. Option B would also mean meetings could take place behind closed-doors. Option A is my preferred option as it is the only one which would result in all meetings being open to the public.

What else do I need to know?

It has been covered in the press this week:

The Stotfold-based Councilwatch group – which now is spreading throughout the Central Beds Council area – has been rounding up the troops, and there should be upwards of 50 members of the pubic there to witness what goes on in the name of democracy.

I will be there on the day and will be tweeting to let people know what is happening as it happens. By doing so, I am hoping to make the point that people can and should engage with their local councils and be able to bear witness to the decisions councillors are making on their behalf.

I believe excluding members of the public from any meetings goes against the principles of democracy and central Government’s policy of open government and the Big Society, which encourages people to get involved in politics and the community.

Follow me on the day @adamzerny or better still, come to Tuesday’s meeting – 10am at the Council offices at Chicksands; you will be in very good company.

For more information, please contact me