'It's outrageous': Independents accuse Central Beds Council of stifling open questions at meeting

Cllr Adam Zerny questions the council
Cllr Adam Zerny questions the council

Independent councillors have accused Central Beds Council of taking “outrageous” measures to deny them their right to ask questions.

The local authority can be held to account by councillors who write a question on a piece of paper, which is then placed in a box to be drawn randomly at full council.

The section of the meeting, called open questions, is a chance to raise matters with the Conservative council leader James Jamieson and his executive team.

But furious opposition councillors said the box was not being used at a full council meeting on Thursday, September 26, and that the order of the questions was being pre-determined.

Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny interrupted the session, saying: “The constitution says the names will be drawn at random by the chairman during the question time. Now that isn’t happening.

“The pile of papers were on the desk in front of the monitoring officer who was going through them.

“That isn’t happening. That is against the constitution. Outrageous.”

CBC monitoring officer Stephen Rix replied: “I took the papers from the box. I haven’t sorted them whatsoever.

“As far as I am concerned they are random.”

The council chairman, Conservative councillor Brian Saunders, is required by the constitution to draw questions at random, according to Independent Aspley and Woburn councillor John Baker.

“This agenda item is to ensure that the administration is held to account for its actions,” he wrote on social media. “At last night’s meeting, opposition councillors reacted with anger as it appeared that the questions were being filtered.

“Coincidentally the questions seemed to be largely given to members of the ruling party, who each asked an utterly pointless one, with an equally weak supplementary, while members of the leadership team filibustered their way through answers.

“Opposition councillors were denied an opportunity to speak, while the council leadership smirked.

“Why would the administration behave in this way? What is it possibly trying to hide?” he asked.

“Is it because Independent councillors have discovered that CBC received £45m of government funding for infrastructure improvements for which the administration cannot evidence infrastructure improvements?

“Perhaps the council leader, who has two taxpayer funded full-time jobs, is struggling to sustain questions regarding his commitment to the council? The point of open questions is to ensure scandals are not allowed to occur. We’ve seen what happens at councils which operate with this mentality, poor behaviour, often hurting those in society that the local authority is there to protect.

“When a leader is too cowardly to address a council, it’s time for new leadership.”

Video footage during open questions shows the box is empty, he added.

A CBC spokeswoman said: “The monitoring officer and most senior legal professional of the council responded when the issue was raised during the council meeting.

“He explained he had removed all the questions from the box for the chairman, and had not sorted them whatsoever.

“As far as he was concerned they were being put forward in a completely random manner.”