North Northants Council members spar over “anti-democratic” changes to council meetings

The governing Conservative group on North Northamptonshire Council were labelled “dictators” by opposition councillors after a change to the regular meeting time has left councillors and members of the public unable to attend meetings.

At the meeting on 29 September, the Conservative group proposed an amendment to the constitution to change the start time of meetings from 7pm to 2pm. The reason given for this change was that an earlier start time would provide more flexibility for debate. This proposal was originally put to a meeting of the Democracy and Standards Committee on 16 September, at which it was agreed that the proposal would be put to the Full Council meeting.

However, opposition councillors and members of the public voiced concerns that the change of meeting time would exclude many working people unable to take time off, as well as people with childcare responsibilities. Young people would also be unable to engage in local government due to school commitments.

One councillor that will be unable to attend afternoon meetings is Cllr Jean Addison, leader of the Labour group. She told councillors that they are “old, stale and grey”.

Labour councillor John McGhee told the group: “We are going down the road of people that they think know all the answers. We should be going through scrutiny. That’s real democracy… This is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship.”

Following the meeting, he said: “You’ve witnessed the death of democracy tonight.”

Cllr Emily Fedorowycz, leader of the Green Alliance said: “This is why we need scrutiny.”

The decision was not, however, unilaterally popular among the Conservative group. Scott Brown, Conservative councillor for Earls Barton, said that the decision would exclude working people.

A spokesperson for North Northamptonshire Council said: “Full Council has voted for the start times of meetings to be moved from 7pm to 2pm for regular meetings and to 10am for February’s budget setting meeting. It was envisaged that the business of some meetings would take several hours to determine, so it was felt that an earlier start time would provide more flexibility for debate. This is being done on a trial basis to determine how it compares to the prior arrangement.

The matter was initially discussed and debated at the Democracy and Standards Committee and unanimously put forward by councillors to recommend the change to the time.”

Robert Foskett
December 2021