Please can you sign the open letter to Will Godfrey CEO of B&NES Council. Calling for the Reinstatement for the Democratic Access to Our Council
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B&NES Council has recently changed the way that you can speak at meetings. Previously a title of the statement was required two working days before a statement to Council, Cabinet or Scrutiny meetings. Now the Public and Councillors must send in a full written statement 2 working days before any meeting.
This Open Letter is calling on B&NES Council to return to the original democratic system that was fair for all.
There are many sections of our community who will be harmed by this change.
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Please share this Open letter with all members of the B&NES community.
Appreciate your support
Statements to Council from the Public
As residents and organizations of Bath & North East Somerset, we are deeply concerned by the council’s new insistence that members of the public and councillors must submit full written speeches two days in advance if they wish to address the council, cabinet, or scrutiny panels.
We appreciate that this has historically sometimes been requested, but welcomed that, most of the time, it was not the case. Your change is very worrying. It acts as a barrier to political and community participation for many ordinary people. We ask you to consider the needs of residents of all ages and abilities as a matter of urgency and reverse this requirement.
The current constitution is clear in assuring the public and councillors the right to address the council, with only reasonable and proportionate requests for the council solicitor to view the subject matter in advance.
RULE 34 – PETITIONS, STATEMENTS AND DEPUTATIONS FROM THE PUBLIC OR COUNCILLORS[i]
All items must be submitted in writing (this to include transmission by e mail).
Advance notice of the petition, statement or deputation, setting out the subject matter must be lodged with the Council Solicitor no later than 2 clear working days before the day of the meeting at which the submission is to be made (e.g. Monday 5pm for a meeting on a Thursday).
Your new rule harms the interests of residents including, but not limited to:
1. The elderly: disproportionally, older people lack computer and email access. Their handwriting is often affected by medical conditions (e.g., arthritis, eye conditions), and they – again disproportionately – face mobility issues around the additional requirement of posting a hard copy letter to you by the submission deadline.
2. Many disabilities and medical conditions result in serious communications issues: from dyslexia and deafness (for instance, BSL users are often Easy-Read or pictorial print communicators) to neurological conditions.
3. Young people: encouraging young people to engage with democracy and the local environment they live in requires adults to support people under the age of 18 to voice their concerns. Many under 18 are not fully literate at an early age and will be frightened by the time frame and the need to keep to a script.
4. People who do not have English as their first language.
5. And the English rates of functional illiteracy (1 in 6, or 16.4%) suggests that over 30,000 friends and neighbours are more likely than most to avoid having to submit a written three-minute speech to (presumably well educated) elected councillors in a council chamber. You’re asking for a GCSE-standard piece of work as an “entrance exam” to be allowed to tell the council their views.
In each of these examples, submitting a full written speech is a much more significant ask than for others. The stigma of “less than perfect” written English can be very significant. You know this.
We know there are many ways people can make their views known. And we want everyone to be able to access all of them. How they talk to the council should be up to them.
Please reverse this decision. Please send a clear message to all residents that their views are welcome in Council, Cabinet and Scrutiny meetings.
[i] Part 4 (A) Council procedure rules – https://democracy.bathnes.gov.uk/documents/s67847/Part%204%20A%20Council%20procedure%20rules.pdf