Opposition slams new public debate rules at Sheffield City Council
Leaders at Sheffield City Council introduced new rules which they say will make the authority more accessible to members of the public, despite criticism from opposition councillors.
A report looking at how public meetings are conducted and when they take place was considered at a meeting of the authority’s cabinet this week.
Under the proposals, meetings of full council will now start at 2pm with a maximum duration of three hours and thirty minutes.
Previously, meetings of full council were held in the evenings.
The authority ruled that items ‘of public interest and engagement’ will be listed earlier in the running order. Motions will also be listed on the agenda and limited to a maximum of four per meeting.
Time limits for debates which are required following the submission of petitions will be reduced from 40 minutes to 25 minutes, and speeches from councillors will be cut to a maximum of two minutes - down from three.
But the new rules have been criticised by the Liberal Democrats - who say that the decision will mean less time for opposition members to speak in debates.
In a recorded vote, Labour party members voted on bloc to vote down a Lib Dem amendment and in doing so, reduced the amount of debate time by almost a third.
Speaking after the meeting of full council on Wednesday, Lib Dem leader Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed said: “The public deserve trust, truth and transparency but the council are choosing to run away from the big issues that matter to the people of Sheffield.
“Following this year’s local elections where the Labour party lost a number of seats, I would have thought that the Leader of the Council, Cllr Julie Dore, and her colleagues would have taken time out to reflect on the results and to work towards better engagement with the public.”
In future, members of the public who shout out or interrupt proceedings will be given one warning, and then be removed from the council chamber if they interrupt again.
There are also provisions to clear the public gallery more quickly in the event of larger protests.
In February tree campaigners stormed the main council chamber and took part in a ‘sit down’ protest at the end of a meeting of full council.
At the last full council meeting, proceedings were delayed while a member of the public was ejected, following repeated warnings for heckling councillors.