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Jan 28 2014

Council Scraps Minuting Public Q&A at Meetings

harrow_council_logoIf you’ve ever been to a Harrow Council Cabinet meeting, you’ll know that the most interesting part (nay, the only interesting part) is the Q&A from Councillors and the Great Unwashed Public. Originally capped at 15 minutes for each segment – and Cllr Hall, since taking over the administration, has realised the value of these, and has extended the timings a little – these provide a fairly good barometer for the tone of the borough.

Couldn’t make the meeting? It didn’t matter – the questions and their answers would be transcribed in their entirety for you to read a couple of weeks later in the published minutes, and, on occasions, on iharrow.com.

All of a sudden, we spotted a note to say that transcribing minutes would no longer be done, and instead, the Council would simply publish a recording of the session onto it’s website.

Surely some mistake? Given that just about every decision that the Council takes has some some kind of Equalities Assessment behind it, surely such a move – thus excluding the thousands of people in the borough who are hard of hearing, don’t have access to a computer, want to read the full minutes in the office, on the toilet, on the train, or even don’t have English as a first language. I can imagine Grandma trying to figure out a podcast on the way to the Darby and Joan club, instead of a couple of pages of paper…

Had an Equalities Assessment been carried out? What did it say?

We asked the Council. It took them one day to ‘acknowledge’ the email, without answering it, and a further week to come back and say that “…equality implications were taken into account…”

So great, there should be something formal, yes? Apparently not. After prodding the Council again, and waiting another week, the council advised: “Please note that no EqIA was carried out.”

Seems odd. We get the idea of the council wanting to save money – apparently, transcribing the 30 minutes of meetings was a “full time job” according to Leader Susan Hall. But we guess she means every meeting that had Q&A. An FOI request is on the way to find out what the saving is expected to be.

 

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2 comments

  1. Cllr. Paul Osborn

    I can save you the trouble of an FOI.

    This measure is part of a series of changes designed to deliver the saving that Labour wrote in to the budget last year (item RES069 – Reduced Number and Frequency Formal Committees. Reduced staffing). This was meant to save £30K this year and a further £70K next year. Labour put it in the budget but didn’t make the necessary changes to achieve the saving.

    By stopping the transcribing of the Q&A and also looking at how some meetings like Personnel Appeals Panels are supported by officers, I hope make the saving that was meant to be delivered this year. I am also looking at how to save the £70K originally budgeted for next year, but until we have a costed and thought through plan we have removed the £70K saving from the budget as one of the “Unachievable Savings”. I am still optimistic about making that saving, but the plans aren’t clear enough to me at this stage to add to the budget.

    Hope this helps

  2. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    Yep that sure helps – confirmation that public questions and answers won’t be minuted. Hey Boaksey why don’t we minute them, publish them on here, then leave a sign on the Civic Centre noticeboard that this is where to find them? If Cllr Osborn’s too scared to come after you over Melanie Lewis’s comments anout Andrew Trehern he sure as hell won’t come after us for publicising our own minutes of the public’s Q & A!!!!

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