North Yorkshire Council bans public from asking questions at annual council tax meeting

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North Yorkshire Council has voted to ban the public from asking questions at its annual council tax-setting meetings.

But there were dissenting voices from some councillors who accused the Conservative-run authority of an “erosion of democracy”.

All councillors met in Northallerton on Wednesday (May 15) to discuss amending its constitution, which included proposals to restrict questions from the public at its budget meeting in February.

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Every year, the council agrees on what amount it will charge council tax to residents and what it will spend taxpayers’ money on in the year ahead.

Councillor Gareth Dadd, speaking in the North Yorkshire Council chamber. Picture: LDRSCouncillor Gareth Dadd, speaking in the North Yorkshire Council chamber. Picture: LDRS
Councillor Gareth Dadd, speaking in the North Yorkshire Council chamber. Picture: LDRS

But at this year’s meeting, around an hour was taken up by seven questions from residents about issues unrelated to the budget, including from 20’s Plenty campaigners who want to see lower speed limits through villages.

Referring to that meeting, Tory executive member for finance Coun Gareth Dadd said he grew “sick and tired” of questions that had nothing to do with council tax.

He argued removing the public’s right to ask questions was about strengthening democracy as it would allow councillors more time to debate the important matter of what the council spends its money on.

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Coun Dadd added: “Let’s be absolutely clear, the one decision we take of the most importance is that budget meeting. That’s what we’re elected to do. Through budget consultation, there are more opportunities than ever for the public to have their view known. We listen to the public day in and day out.”

During the meeting, Coun Chris Aldred (Liberal Democrat, High Harrogate & Kingsley) attempted to block the move as he said it was “perverse” to stop the public from speaking.

Coun Aldred said: “We’re spending their money and deciding how much they’ll be charged, surely we should be allowing some input there?”

He was backed by Coun Subash Sharmer (Labour, Newby) who said during a cost-of-living crisis residents should be able to have their voices heard.

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He added: “When people are hurting, the least we can do is hear what they have to say.”

However, Coun Andrew Williams (Conservative & Independent Group, Ripon Minster & Moorside) likened the council’s budget to the one delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in government.

He said: “Jeremy Hunt doesn’t stand up in Parliament and answer a question from Mrs Jones in Luton before he proposes the budget for the year.”

In part due to the questions from the public, this year’s budget meeting clocked in at around eight hours.

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Conservative executive member for corporate services, Coun David Chance said it was so long “you lost the will to live” and the changes should result in a quicker meeting next year.

Councillors voted 45 to 31 in favour of amending the council constitution. There were four abstentions.

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