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Ealing Council imposes 50 word maximum question residents can ask at council meetings

A change in the Ealing Council constitution which has been supported by Ealing Labour and Ealing Conservative councillors will now see residents only allowed to ask a question at council meetings that are 50 words or less.

Residents in the Labour-run borough will no longer be allowed to ask a question of up to three minutes.  Opposition party Ealing Liberal Democrats said of the move: “Labour want to be less accountable, they do not want to be criticised by residents, so they are stifling discussion.”

Previously residents had up to three minutes in which to ask their questions but at last week’s full council meeting, the Labour-run council implemented a new policy that ditches the three minute allowance to 50 words maximum for a question.

Under the two changes to the council’s constitution, residents only have up to 50 words for their question and it has to be submitted around a week in advance of the council meeting when previously it only had to be submitted two days before.

Change to Ealing Council constitution
Change to Ealing Council constitution

Click here to read the full Changes to the Constitution.

The vote for the change to the constitution, which included a number of other topics including naming of streets as well as how residents can ask questions, was taken less than five minutes before the meeting ended.

Raising concerns, Ealing Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Busuttil, opposition deputy leader said: “Ealing Labour like to trumpet their “openness and transparency” when they really are reducing opportunities for them to make their voices heard. It seems that both Labour and the Tories are seeking to quash democratic engagement and challenge of the Council by residents.

Councillor Busuttil added: “Labour want to be less accountable, they do not want to be criticised by residents, so they are stifling discussion. Labour have such a large majority in Ealing that they are more interested in their own agenda and waving through their own decisions than listening to the people or encouraging discussion. This comes at a time when Labour have been in power in Ealing for as long as the Conservatives have been in Downing Street.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Busuttil, Opposition Deputy Leader said: “Liberal Democrats say this is another example of Labour not wanting the public to criticise them and so they are reducing the opportunity and scope for residents to engage at Council meetings. Liberal Democrats want residents to have their say.”

By contrast, Westminster City Council says “residents get up to two minutes to ask a question, which it in practice works out to around 250 words.”

Over at Chelmsford City Council, they also allow residents up to two minutes to ask a question. “If you want to ask a question or make a statement at a meeting, you must tell us at least 24 hours in advance. You can submit your question online. Once you have submitted your question or statement, we will send it to the relevant councillors. You can still attend to put it in person if you wish. The question or statement must take no longer than two minutes to read out.”

An Ealing Council spokesperson told EALING.NEWS: “At its last few meetings alone, the Council has radically opened procedures to encourage even greater levels of inclusive public engagement. When the council debated protected characteristic status to care leavers, young people who have experience of the care system addressed the council directly. When the council debated celebrating the contribution of the Windrush Generation, pioneers themselves addressed the council of their experiences. The council remain committed to amplifying the voices of those who often go without the opportunity to engage in civic life.”

They added: “A report on a number of proposed changes to the council’s constitution was taken to full council, including clarifying the process for members of the public to ask questions. It is hoped that this will help increase the overall number of questions that can be accepted during the limited time available at each meeting. The report, as all council reports are, was published a clear 5 working days prior to the meeting on the council’s website. In addition, an advert was placed on the council’s website inviting comments from the public, none were received. The full report is available on the council’s website.”

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