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Are your Councillor's Attending Meetings?

What's the issue?

We elect our Councillors to represent us: do they do this? It appears that some attend the bare minimum required, while some do not show at all.

The Facts

The Local Government Act 2000 states that if a member of a local authority fails throughout a period of six consecutive months from the date of his last attendance to attend any meeting of the authority, they shall cease to be a member of the authority.  

This rule was recently invoked upon Hertford Town Councillor Sacha Bright (Con, Castle), who was disqualified from his position on for non-attendance on Monday 11 May. Cllr Bright last attended a meeting on November 10 last year. 

A November 2008 Audit Commission report shows us that councillor's failure to attend key committee meetings contributed to the misallocation of £2.2 million on its Supporting People care programme. The report states that some local councillors, especially district councillors, were attending meetings of the Commissioning Body sporadically and some did not attend in a whole year. The Audit Commission believes this significantly slowed down the decision making progress and was detrimental to the project. They were also concerned that no-one enquired why Councillors were missing so many meetings. 

District Council Attendance 2007/8 - generally good, with the majority attending 70% - 80% of their relevant meetings. Two notable exceptions who were present at less than half of the relevant meetings. 

No County attendance records publicly available

Many other UK councils publicly display records of their councillors' attendance; however this is not the case for our county council and the actual figures for the punctuality of our elected representatives are vague at best. 

Upon trying to get the information from HCC, we were constantly referred to other departments, none of whom had a clue. 

Short of trawling through the minutes for every single meeting, there is no way of gauging attendance levels. 

We need our local government to publish the attendance records of their councillors in an easily accessible and understandable format, so that voters can make an informed choice based on the past performance of incumbents. 

What is a reasonable rate of attendance?

While the rules state that the minimum is one meeting every six months, this really does seem lenient in the extreme. Nobody would disagree that it is not always possible for councillors to attend meetings, but it would be difficult to justify consistent absenteeism. 

Of course, many council meetings are simply rubber-stamping exercises and a councillor could still do a good job without attending them.

2008 Full County Council Meeting attendance

25 Nov - 70 attended out of 77 elected councillors.

15 July - 70 attended out of 77

20 May - 70 attended out of 77

8 April - 72 attended out of 77

26 Feb - 72 attended out of 77

Most councillors attended four or more of the meetings, though Cllr Nigel Cook (Lab, Hemel Hempstead South) only attended one, and Cllr Jane Hobday (Lab, South Oxhey) only two. 

The case for stricter rules on attendance:

While Cllr Bright as a Town Councillor wasn't receiving an allowance during his absence, the rules do not differ for District and County councillors who are funded by public money. This means that the taxpayer could be footing the bill for an elected representative who isn't doing their job.

One way of making sure that our councillors are doing their job properly would be to make attendance records for relevant meetings publicly available in an easily accessible format. Many other local authorities manage this (Cambridge, Ealing and Richmond for example), so there is no real reason for ours not to. 

Have your say: What do you think about councillors' attendance? Do you think they should not receive an allowance if they do not attend?  What do you think is a fair workload for a councillor?

Let us know: info@ehpeople.org

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