“Council meeting not fit for purpose”

Sign on A38 near Launceston by Antbex74

Cornish residents have a right to expect its primary democratically-elected debating chamber to be relevant to the most pressing matters of the day, argues Councillor Andrew George.

I cannot apologise for my protest at the most recent full council meeting last week*. The Conservatives appear to be managing the agenda to avoid inconvenient facts and discomforting controversies. I don’t respond well to muzzled conformity.

I’ve discovered, since becoming a Councillor last year, the full council meeting is not fit for purpose. Right now we have an NHS and care system in meltdown, the most serious housing emergency in living memory, the much–hyped Stadium has been ditched, and the Royal Cornwall Museum which has been a centrepiece of Cornwall‘s culture since 1818 facing “imminent closure“. But the Council’s meeting agenda ignores all of these matters. Instead, the main debates on the agenda last week were a minor adjustment to food waste policy (which would in any case have been better resolved under delegated arrangements), and an equally uncontroversial minor planning procedure.

Apart from the unsatisfactory, uncoordinated and piecemeal bunfight of the time-limited questions to cabinet members tacked on at the end of the agenda, there is no opportunity to properly debate the real issues of the day. And, once again, I and other councillors were unable to ask our questions anyway because it ran out of time!

We cannot go on like this. Full council meetings are largely irrelevant to the reality of life in Cornwall. The Council, and its scrutiny committees, operate in a straitjacket of procedural rules. It’s a wonderful place for tin-pot dictators. But it’s useless for searching debate on the relevant issues of the day, decent scrutiny of the executive and holding the executive to account. The UK Parliament isn’t wonderful, but it’s a shocking contrast for people like me who have been fortunate enough to experience the benefits of the tools available to those who operate in Westminster.

Patients are dying waiting for an ambulance. The elderly and most vulnerable are not receiving the treatment they need and deserve in a timely manner. Local young families are being evicted to make place for holiday lets. The Conservatives kept promising they’d find money for a Stadium for Cornwall, but that’s been ditched, and promises ignored. Then they make an incompetent decision of defunding the Royal Cornwall Museum leading to its “imminent closure“, and without consulting any councillors beyond Conservative cabinet members. But Cornwall’s seat of (local) Government has nothing to say. This is simply not good enough.

Councillors have an agenda set for them which simply distracts from the real issues of the day. This is rubbing salt into the wound. What is the point of having a Cornwall Council if we cannot debate the matters that are relevant to the lives of the people we represent? 

* I attempted to raise a point of order to protest at the Council Meeting on 12th July, that the Council was not permitted to specifically debate concerns about decisions made by the Cabinet on matters like the “imminent closure” of the RCM. This was dismissed by the Conservative Chair at the time.