Anger as Tories make monthly town councillor surgeries ‘party political’

Photo of two men standing behind a table.
Town councillor surgery in the foyer of the Willow Brook shopping centre on Saturday 31st July 2021. L-r: Cllr John Ashe and Cllr Tom Aditya.

Opposition members on Bradley Stoke Town Council have reacted angrily to some of the ruling Conservative group voting to restrict them to attending just one in three of the monthly councillor surgery sessions held on Saturday mornings at the Willow Brook Centre.

The purpose of the face-to-face advice surgeries is to give local residents an additional opportunity to discuss local issues with their elected representatives. Councillors feedback information to the town council office, which then takes the appropriate steps to resolve each issue or forwards it to the appropriate organisation, such as South Gloucestershire Council or Avon and Somerset Police.

Regular town councillor surgeries were held up to 2013 but were suspended from the end of that year due to difficulties in arranging the rota which determined which members (usually numbering two) would attend each event.

Photo of two adults seated at a table next to a large sign.
From the Journal archives: Town councillor surgery at Bradley Stoke Leisure Centre in April 2008. L-r: Cllr Caroline Charlton and Cllr Robert Jones.

They were reinstated from July 2021, but without a rota determined by the town council office, leaving individual councillors the choice of whether to attend any particular surgery, with any coordination amongst councillors being informal.

The town council says it no longer records which councillors attend each surgery, so there is no readily available data to show how well ‘staffed’ the events have been since they were reintroduced. However, the Journal understands that Cllrs Tom Aditya (Conservative), John Ashe (Conservative) and Angela Morey (elected as an Independent but now Labour) have attended regularly, with the latter claiming to have missed only one surgery.

But now, following a decision made at the June 2022 Full Council meeting, councillor attendance at the monthly surgeries is being regulated, event by event, on a ‘party political’ basis, rotating between the ‘majority political party’ and the ‘opposition’ in accordance with the overall ratio of council members. This is similar to the arrangement for populating council committees that was controversially introduced in 2019. As there are currently ten Conservative members and five of other political affiliations (or none), this means that opposition councillors are restricted to attending every third surgery (so nominally once every three months).

ADVERTISEMENT
Kitchen & Laundry Appliance Care, Bradley Stoke, Bristol.

The new arrangement was proposed by Cllr John Ashe and seconded by Cllr Roger Avenin, with Cllr Ashe suggesting that, with the current system, “you [could] get a situation no one to turns up … or three or four [councillors] turn up”. He claimed that it would work better if each political group “sorted it out for themselves”.

Cllr Dayley Lawrence (Labour) objected on the grounds that “there’s no reason for it to be party political”. He added: “It’s actually about the electorate engaging with the council; I don’t see why it should be anything to do with parties at all.”

Cllr Lawrence went on to say, “there is a view that local government shouldn’t be as political as it sometimes can be”, to which Cllr Ashe replied, “you’ve made it very political.” Cllr Lawrence, who won his seat in a controversial by-election in March, retorted: “By being elected?”

When it came to a vote, Cllr Ashe’s proposal was passed by four votes to three, with one abstention.

Reaction

Cllr Angela Morey (Labour), who wasn’t present at the June meeting, later posted a video on social media in which she says:

“[Council members] aren’t there to recruit [for] or promote political parties – we’re there as representatives of the council. So why would I be blocked from attending? Or why would I want to block anyone else?”

“I think it’s just a thinly veiled attempt to stop me being able to speak to people on behalf of the council.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Schedule

The matter was discussed further at the July meeting of Full Council when a draft rota for future councillor surgeries was tabled by the clerk.

Cllr Morey complained that she hadn’t heard any credible explanation for the introduction of the new ‘rotation by political party’ scheme, adding that she had “had 40 people contact me about it” in response to her postings on social media.

Cllr Brian Hopkinson (Conservative) said there is nothing stopping any councillor holding their own surgery at any time on any day, provided they have permission [from the venue]. He added: “If people want to contact you, they will. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.”

A few of the Conservative councillors at this meeting appeared to support a variation of the previous decision, by which proportionality would be applied on a ‘per event’ basis, e.g. by having two Conservative councillors and one opposition councillor in attendance. However, the clerk advised that the council’s standing orders (constitution) do not allow a decision to be revisited within six months. This clause can, however, be overridden if at least four councillors submit a special resolution for inclusion on the agenda for a future meeting (the next one being in September).

The meeting agreed the following schedule for future councillor surgeries in 2022, passed by five votes to three, with three abstentions:

  • Saturday 30th July – Conservative
  • Saturday 27th August – Conservative
  • Saturday 24th September – Other parties
  • Saturday 29th October – Conservative
  • Saturday 26th November – Other parties
  • Saturday 31st December – No surgery

Surgeries are held from 10am to 12noon in the foyer at the town square end of the Willow Brook Centre mall.

All town councillor surgery dates can be found in the Journal’s online What’s On guide.

ADVERTISEMENT
Advertising image.

Impact

Data obtained by the Journal indicates that the monthly councillor surgeries yield only a small number of residents’ issues (on one occasion none at all) that need to be taken forward for further action.

Hardly any of the issues raised relate to the responsibilities of Bradley Stoke Town Council (just three over the last 12 months), with most relating to responsibilities of South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) or the police.

  • Saturday 31st July 2021 – 5 residents (4 x SGC, 1 x other)
  • Saturday 28th August 2021 – 5 residents (2 x SGC, 1 x BSTC, 2 x other)
  • Saturday 25th September 2021 – 5 residents (2 x SGC, 1 x BSTC, 2 x other)
  • Saturday 30th October 2021 – 1 resident (1 x SGC)
  • Saturday 27th November 2021 – 2 residents (1 x SGC, 1 x other)
  • Saturday 29th January 2022 – 4 residents (2 x SGC, 1 x police, 1 x other)
  • Saturday 26th February 2022 – 5 residents (2 x SGC, 1 x police, 2 x other)
  • Saturday 26th March 2022 – 1 resident (1 x other)
  • Saturday 30th April 2022 – 0 residents
  • Saturday 30th July 2022 – 5 residents (1 x SGC, 2 x SGC/police, 1 x BSTC, 1 x other)

For reference, the main responsibilities of the town council are the maintenance of the its three activity centres (Baileys Court, Brook Way and The Jubilee), the skate park, Jubilee Green, the Beacon Playscheme and other play areas. It also maintains highway verges on behalf of SGC.

Of course, there is no need for most residents to attend one of the face-to-face town council surgeries in order to raise an issue. The easiest way to contact your local SGC ward councillor is via writetothem.com (just enter your postcode). Should the issue turn out to relate to a town council issue, the SGC ward councillor should be able to forward your enquiry (or you can use the Contact page on the BSTC website).

For non-emergency issues, the Bradley Stoke police beat team may be contacted via an online form at the bottom of their dedicated webpage. N.B. Do not use this contact form to report a crime.

ADVERTISEMENT
Advertising image.

Useful links


Surgeries temporarily suspended

UPDATE added 24th January 2023.

Decision reached at a meeting of Full Council on 18th January 2023:

“Following discussion, Cllr Keith Cranney proposed that the monthly surgeries be paused for now and then restarted after the forthcoming local elections in May 2023, seconded by Councillor Franklin Owusu-Antwi. A vote was taken, 8 in favour, 1 against, proposal carried.”

Share this page:

One comment

Comments are closed.