Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Are petitions just whinges?

The former Labour government decreed that all local councils needed to have a set procedure in place to deal with petitions that are presented to them. Rather than letting councils get on with deciding for themselves what they should do, they set all sorts of criteria - how many signatures were needed to force a full council debate and how many to force a senior officer to appear at a meeting are just two examples. I very much hope that this sort of micro-management of local affairs won't be continuing under the new coalition regime.

But the Labour diktat has not yet been overturned and so Cornwall Council has had to spend many hours considering a scheme. At today's Cabinet meeting there was round condemnation of the former Government scheme, but we agreed a system in any case.

However I was concerned at some of the comments from colleagues about the concept of petitions. They are a means for residents to express the strength of feeling about an issue. As elected representatives, councillors do a lot of the work of presenting local views, but many people will want to get in touch with officers for themselves and we should encourage and assist any of this sort of contact.

One particular comment came from Cabinet Member Graeme Hicks who described the petition scheme as a 'whingers charter' - a comment which I thought was very dismissive of local residents' views and chosen means of expression.

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