The farce gets even more convoluted. But the lucky people of Rugby get to see my ugly mug in the Observer.
I found out that someone had tried to ask a question at the last Cabinet meeting at Rugby Borough Council, but it had been rejected. What concerned me most that it wasn’t just an officer doing the vetting, as has been the case before, but the Leader of the Council, Craig Humphrey.
Who was the subject of the question? Leader of the Council, Craig Humphrey.
So, as there was still time to get a question in myself, I sent in the following:
For the last Cabinet, I sent a question in to be asked in Public Question Time. The question was initially rejected after being reviewed by Andrew Gabbitas, despite him being partially covered by the question. A less satisfactory question was suggested in place of mine, and I had to ask to get it changed.
I have since found that another member of the public has attempted to ask a question only to have it vetoed after consultation with the Leader. The question covered the activities of the Leader.
I can understand that some questions may be difficult for members of the Cabinet to answer, or even be such that no answer can be given. That does not mean that the question cannot be asked – an explanatory response can always be given if necessary.
Does the Cabinet not agree that it is antipathetic to the cause of openness and democracy for the public to not even be allowed to ask the questions that they want, particularly when the decision to veto is taken at the behest of a councillor or officer who is the subject of the question?
I received a reply to say that they would let the last paragraph go forward, but not the first part. I objected, as the opening lines give some context, but the officer was adamant. The answer received was a stock reply from Cllr Humphrey.
I also had a response from the officer, which you can make of what you will:
The purpose of the Standing Orders is for citizens to ask questions, not to have a discussion or debate on issues. I hope this clarifies why your question only is being asked.
However, it’s utter rubbish.I know full well that there’s no hope of a proper discussion or debate, because all that happens is that the question is read out (by the asker, or by Andrew Gabbitas), and then the answer is read out by the councillor whose remit it concerns. The air of control freakery is enhanced by the fact that the answer is already written down and available before the meeting starts. There’s no follow up, and they just move on to the next item.
The ‘rules’ for how to ask a question have either changed in the past year or the interpretation has. I’ve asked and seen questions with leading statements. I’ve been told that you can’t ask ‘multi-part’ questions but later seen several lodged at one time. I’ve asked the Council what rules have changed since January, but have yet to see a response.
Now there is at least an open admission that if you ask a question about Cllr Humprey he won’t just get the chance to see it in advance, he can have it vetoed.
Now, I’m not ‘angry’ as the Observer article claims, but I am not going to let this abuse of power rest. Whether it is caused by over-officiousness amongst the Democratic Services employees, or a desire to keep his name clean from Craig Humphrey, it’s not right that members of the public are being dictated to like this.
Rugby would be way behind other councils even if they didn’t apply these petty measures. You and I, the public, can’t ask a question at Full Council. Objectors cannot address a Planning meeting where applications are decided. There doesn’t seem to be a system to help those who are hard of hearing.