May 27, 2022 11.00 am

Council accused of limiting democracy as it approves new constitution

However, bosses have promised future changes

A review of South Kesteven District Council’s constitution – which opposition members have accused of limiting democracy – has been passed.

However, senior councillors have promised to take the document back to the drawing board to address a number of concerns raised about the document.

The review aimed to tidy up inconsistent anomalies within the constitution which had created confusion during meetings.

Conservative Councillor Linda Wootten, who led on the latest revisions, told the council: “The key principle of this review has been openness, transparency, and engagement, engagement.”

She said there had been a number of workshops and chances to make comments on the changes, and added: “I’ve been quite perturbed today that I’ve had lots of amendments and papers stuffed on my desk, which has got rather confusing.

“I was also a bit upset to be quite honest that the democratic officer has been running around trying to accommodate it all and I do apologise for that.”

Key issues revolved mainly around planning, including the amount of time councillors had to speak, the order of speakers and when ward councillors who neighboured applications’ borders could speak.

However, questions were also raised about a new requirement to submit questions in advance.

Independent Councillor Ashley Baxter said: “We are supposed to be enhancing openness and scrutiny.

“This has been changed so that the leader and the chair of cabinet can, at his discretion, quash people from asking difficult questions at cabinet… this is a backward step.

“I don’t want any rule changes. I don’t think it’s right to reduce the amount of accessibility and scrutiny for this council and that’s why I oppose these.”

Councillor Virginia Moran said the changes were “substantive”.

“We’re basically making ourselves less and less accessible and that’s not the way to go,” she said.

“If anything we should make ourselves more accessible and make members of the public feel more welcome to come and talk to us.”

Several amendments to the changes were, however, withdrawn following a long discussion on the document after the chairman of the Constitution Committee, Conservative Councillor Mark Whittington promised to iron out problems.

Calling the document a “living” one, he said: “What we have now is a new baseline constitution.

“If, through usage, we do find there are still problems and issues with it I am more than open to looking at how we may resolve those going forward,” he said.