'It's like North Korea' - opposition councillors claim they have been 'gagged' by changes to limit discussion at Nottinghamshire Council

Opposition groups have labelled major changes to Nottinghamshire Council’s constitution as a “sad day” for democracy at the authority.
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The Conservative-led council approved changes to its rulebook a year after switching the way it does business from a committee-based method to a cabinet model.

Leaders said the new changes would make meetings more efficient and relevant.

However the changes have sparked opposition concerns of a “democratic deficit” at public meetings.

Independent Alliance councillors claim they have been 'gagged' by Nottinghamshire Council. (Photo by: Independent Alliance)Independent Alliance councillors claim they have been 'gagged' by Nottinghamshire Council. (Photo by: Independent Alliance)
Independent Alliance councillors claim they have been 'gagged' by Nottinghamshire Council. (Photo by: Independent Alliance)

The changes will mean each of the three main political parties is limited to bringing only one motion to full council meetings for debate.

The bi-monthly meetings usually allow any councillor or group to suggest items or issues for discussion and can influence council policies or call for councillors to take action on certain issues.

Recent motions discussed at County Hall included a debate on smart motorways and one on supporting care leavers.

Before the change, each political group could submit as many motions for debate as they liked, with recent meetings seeing both the Labour and Independent Alliance opposition groups submitting two or three motions each for debate.

However, the changes – proposed and backed only by ruling Conservative councillors – have reduced this to one motion per group, with the previous unlimited discussion time now cut to a maximum of 60 minutes each.

The scope of motions has also been curtailed, to limit it to matters “for which the council has a responsibility and direct control over and... the power to implement”, and they must be submitted via a new template aimed at making them “precise, concise and relevant”.

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However, the changes sparked concerns from both opposition groups – with the Independent Alliance claiming it has been “gagged”.

Coun Jason Zadrozny, alliance leader and member for Ashfields, said: “Councillors will have the least power they’ve ever had.

“This is creating a democratic deficit, one that turns the majority of this council into mere spectators.

“We are now experiencing a repressive county council stamping down on dissent. It’s like living in places like North Korea. Now they want to shut us up, plain and simple.”

Coun Michael Payne, of Labour, also criticised the changes and said previous motions – such as calls to investigate Nottingham maternity failings – would “not see the light of day” under the amendments.

He said: “Many issues where there has been a political consensus in this chamber would not have found themselves to the fore.

“What an incredibly sad day for this chamber. There was a time when it was a place where people could come to argue their corner and debate honourably.

“These are issues that affect the people of Nottinghamshire. It’s the start of a slide of this once-great democratic institution.”

He said “We had a cross-party working group which provided a set of suggestions and recommendations.

“They will make the operation, particularly on full council day, more efficient, effective and relevant to the residents of Nottinghamshire.

“Some members have difficulty in putting together motions in a precise, concise and relevant way. We have produced templates to allow members to put in a motion… and the second for an amendment.

“The changes, overall, are moderate and minor.”