Axed council debates spark ‘silencing’ row

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LIB DEMS have accused Sheffield Council’s new Labour administration of trying to silence them – by more than halving the number of meetings where questions can be asked about council policy.

But Labour dismissed the claims as a ‘publicity stunt’ – saying the cost-cutting measures were drawn up under the old Lib Dem administration.

The arrangements, approved by the full council this week, mean five scrutiny committees will each meet every two months to review decisions made by the council’s cabinet. The meetings are also an opportunity for the public to attend and ask questions.

Last year, six committees each met 12 times a year on a monthly basis.

The number of scrutiny committee meetings have been reduced from 72 to 30.

Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, Lib Dem opposition leader, said: “The fact that Labour’s first act since taking control is to try and stop anyone questioning their decisions doesn’t bode well.

“What’s more, I don’t believe it is acceptable for local people to be forced to wait two months before they can ask questions or present their petitions.

“Local people don’t want a return to the ‘we know best’ attitude Labour had when they last ran the Town Hall.”

The new arrangements also include a reduction in the number of monthly full council meetings from 14 to 10.

Labour say changes date from discussions held between officers and councillors in February, when the Lib Dems were still in power, as part of cost-cutting measures.

Labour council leader, Coun Julie Dore, said: “This is a very cynical PR stunt by the Lib Dems – just proving how obsessed they are with political spin.

“I am very disappointed the new Lib Dem leader is continuing with a very adversarial approach to Town Hall politics. I don’t believe this is an approach local people want to see.

“The Liberal Democrat’s own budget proposals in March assumed that there would be a reduction in the number of formal meetings of the council – including scrutiny meetings, and this is the realisation of their own budget cuts.

“These proposals were brought forward on April 28, while the Lib Dems were still in control of the council.”