Key decisions on affordable housing and care for the elderly were postponed as one member of the council’s social services committee protested at being treated with “contempt”.
Several councillors complained they had not been given enough time to absorb the contents of a chunky 317-page agenda in time for Wednesday’s committee meeting. Following a circuitous debate, it was agreed to reconvene on Monday instead – allowing members more time to digest the 12 reports.
However, the local authority’s chief executive Mark Boden said the papers had gone online last Wednesday, and hard copies were distributed on Friday. “That all complied with the relevant timetables,” he said, “but one or two of the members… didn’t feel they’d been able to read them sufficiently.”
Councillor Billy Fox said he felt members had “drawn a line in the sand”, sending out a message that “this is not going to be a rubber-stamping council”.
Under previous SIC regimes, it was commonplace for some councillors to be seen opening their unread agenda papers at the start of meetings.
“I think in the past fairly hefty reports have probably gone before council and probably not been digested properly,” Mr Fox said.
“This is a council that wants the appropriate amount of time to digest reports. I did not put myself forward for the council to be treated [in] what I regard, actually, as a fairly contemptuous manner, and I did not come onto the council to be made a fool of.
“The decisions lie with the council members. We’re the ones that will carry the can for this – we have to be informed to the very best of officials’ capacity, and digest the facts, probe and ask the appropriate questions.”
After several members – including Mr Fox and Gary Cleaver – raised those concerns on Wednesday, social services chairman Cecil Smith adjourned the meeting to take legal advice.
After a 20-minute break, Mr Smith resumed briefly to announce that the committee’s business would be postponed for five days, allowing members to read and analyse the reports fully.