Today at County Hall there was a Communities Scrutiny discussion about how the Council should respond to petitions. This debate was forced on the Council by an arbitrary deadline set by the Government that is not longer in office. Unfortunately, because it has yet to be overturned by the new Government, Cornwall Council still has to follow the timetable set out.
The first part of the debate was about what constitutes a petition. In fact, this debate was somewhat irrelevant. A petition has to be responded to properly and in a timely manner. Because Cornwall Council already has a code of practice so that all letters and communications are dealt with properly, it really doesn't matter if a letter is also a petition. Eventually the committee decided to recommend that something is a petition if it has 25 or more signatures from people who live, work or study in Cornwall.
More interesting was the debate about how many signatures are required before a petition automatically gets debated at Full Council. The guidelines from Government say that the level should be between 1% and 5% of the population. We decided that we wanted to be as open as possible where significant numbers of people wanted to raise an issue and so we recommended that the threshold should be 5000 signatures - just under 1% of the population. We set a similar threshold for petitions going to community network panels - a fixed number of about 1% of the population of that area. So for the Launceston area it will be about 150.
One extra point to note - everyone who is living, working or studying in Cornwall counts - you don't need to be over 18 to sign up.
Despite the arbitrary deadline, I hope that petitions - where local people can raise issues that really matter to them - will become more a part of our work on the Council.
Our recommendations now go to the Cabinet for approval.