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Opposition councillors hit out at 'Gestapo-like' council rule change proposal

Opposition councillors hit out at 'Gestapo-like' council rule change proposal

Grace Witherden

Councillor Malcolm Beer

An attempted 11th hour amendment to council rules that would alert the Conservative administration to requests for information by councillors has been met with outrage by the three opposition members.

Proposed by Tory leader Cllr David Burbage, the clause was sent in an email at 4.42pm on Tuesday to councillors – just two hours and 30 minutes before a meeting of the full council.

It states: “Where a councillor requests factual information (usually written) from an officer as set out in the paragraph 2.3 above, that information will also be supplied to the chairman of the appropriate panel, forum or committee, or the relevant lead member of the cabinet, and relevant officers.”

This means the leader of the council could be made aware when members of the opposition make an enquiry or ask a question of officers.

Cllr Malcolm Beer (Old Windsor Residents Association, Old Windsor) proposed an amendment to the clause to include the words ‘except where the councillor requests that the question remains confidential’.

This was not accepted by council leader Cllr Burbage (Con, Bray). But he did agree the issue would be referred to the council’s Constitution Sub-Committee for further consideration.

After the meeting, Cllr Beer said: “I think this is outrageous.

“We don’t have the same powers as members of the ruling party. These people are power crazy.

“We independents are just here to get the job done. We wish other people would do the same.

“We do not have the resources of the backing of a national political party but we will be seeking legal advice on this Gestapo-like proposal.”

A Royal Borough spokeswoman said: “Prior to the meeting an amendment was proposed to the agenda item after an ambiguity was identified relating to officers sharing information in response to member queries.

“As set out in the constitution, amendments can be circulated to members in writing during the meeting at the time they are being discussed, as was the case with this item.

“However, as the amendment was received by officers before the meeting took place, it was circulated to all councillors by email out of courtesy prior to the meeting.”

Constitutional amendments agreed at the meeting included a change to call-in procedures, reducing the minimum number of councillors who can ask for an issue to be referred to the full council from four to three.

Speaking after the meeting, opposition councillor Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green), said: “This is an attempt of a shocking abuse of power,” adding: “There’s only three of us so I don’t know what they’re so afraid of.”

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