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Is public participation in council meetings allowed after the public session. At my council quite often councillors will just ask questions of members of the public without seeking an adjournment after the public session and even while we are debating votes. My understanding is this isn't allowed and that once the public session is over there should be no interruptions from the public, sought or unsought, without at least the permission of other councillors via an adjournment vote. Is that correct?
by (400 points)

3 Answers

0 votes
Yes, that is correct, and it's the responsibility of the chairman to enforce the rules.  The Chairman may invite a member of the public to speak at any point in the meeting, but usually only if they have particular knowledge of a matter under discussion and their contribution would assist the Council in coming to the best decision.  Have a look at your standing orders which should explain how these things work.
by (54.1k points)
0 votes
The public have a right to attend meetings of the council but not to take part in those meetings although most councils allow a period of public participation (usually at the start of the meeting).  It is then up to the chairman to manage the meeting so that councillors can do their job and that should be to ensure all councillors can put forward their views, that there is an orderly debate and that decisions are taken as required.  So I agree, once the public session is over, there should be no interruptions from the public or at least not without the express permission of the Chair.  In reality, most councils probably allow a small amount of public participation in agenda items at the time the item is discussed but it is a bit of a balancing act and the vote on any item should absolutely not be interrupted by the public.  Your standing orders should set out how and when the public can be incuded..
by (20.2k points)
Thanks, yes our SOs say 'Members of the public may make representations, answer questions and give evidence at a meeting which they arae entitled to attend in respect of the business on the agenda'.....although it's slightly unclear if that's in respect to the 15 min public session or the whole meeting. What would be your interpretation and are there any alternative wordings?
Debater   IMHO the rule allowing MOP to make representations, answer question and give evidence is a key part of the process whereby councillors debate an issue and include others (MOP) in the discussion..   Its not the 15 minute public session as that is for asking questions and you can be there ireespective of what is on the agenda, and can ask any question irrespective of it being on the agenda or not.  Whether you get an answer is a different issue.  The other bit (usually 1e) is for those who are there - and are entitled to attend in respect of the buiness on the agenda - ie there for a specific purpose and going to do more than just as a random questions.   They can be people who are subject matter experts and do not have to be villagers.  I have gone though this with the clerk and council recently, a disucssion which includes why the NALC gudiance is not quite right.
0 votes

Is it ‘allowed?’

The question could be better constructed. 

It can be - if the chair wants it to be. 

Why would a chair not want it to be?

Maybe if disruptive, distracting or delaying?

If it adds value and makes a worthwhile contribution - why wouldn’t a PC want public participation?

If a PC has lost touch with the community, forgotten that they exist to serve and has become aloof and disengaged then perhaps restricting public participation would be desirable. 

I suspect there are a great many PCs that would be grateful if any public even attended a meeting. If someone takes the time to attend why would you set out to disenfranchise them?  What would be the benefit of that?

A local meeting should seek to serve local interests. If allowing public participation serves that purpose - embrace it, why on earth would you not?

There certainly aren’t any rules / regs that bind a PC - it must decide for itself. 

by (22.2k points)
Point taken and all for interactiveness. I think the pubic sessions are vital and all for that.  I think where I'm coming from is where it can be disruptive or where I could just say as a councillor, I don't know much about this but 'my mate John in the audience knows everything about it' but the Chair then faces a difficult choice in allowing live interruptions, if he or she says yes to my John but no to another councillors 'friend'. There's also the chance that councillors are influenced by information they can't check or interrogate which isn't in an officers report, which could make for distorted decision making, there's the fact on the flipside of what you say, that most members of the public can't stay for the whole meeting so does that mean the most vocal get unfair influence over councillors, there's the limiting of time that councillors might want to contribute which is then taken by non-elected members of the public, and then finally of course there is the deliberatiely disruptive situations where members of the public are barracking councillors. At the end of the day councillors are elected/co-opted and the public are not. My view is fine to adjourn a meeting to hear the public at the chairmans discretion if a really important last minute point from the member of the public but it shouldn't be on every agenda item and judgement should be exercised.
Yes - you very much have the crux of it there and it certainly is a delicate balance.
Personally, I am very ‘pro’ public engagement but it does require a sometimes delicate, sometimes firm, all times fair and consistent hand of the chair.
It is eminently doable’ with some skill and consistency on the part of the chair.
I make a point of welcoming public individually before a meeting, collectively at the start of the meeting whilst explaining process and will say - if you have a desperate desire or really important point to raise once the meeting is underway please catch my eye and I’ll invite you in.
It works - on the rare occasion there is a public attendance.
I’m very pro participation and Standing Orders can be suspended to allow this to happen,
I recently attended a meeting where Councillors were totally misled and reached a decision which has blown up in their faces.
I watched someone who was in the public gallery get angrier and angrier because they could see exactly  what was happening but could do nothing about it

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