Speaking at Full Council

Public Speaking at Council Meetings

The Council recognises the value of public participation at council meetings and that speaking to the public can be daunting but can provide varied and fascinating perspective that enriches meetings.
In Spring 2012, following a huge increase in public attendance and following  feedback from the public, the Council reviewed the way the public participates in its future meetings.
The increase in numbers was largely attributed to debates about the challenges the Council was presented with to find locations for future housing during that time. This led to an unprecedented number of the public wishing to air their views at Council meetings.  In response to this increased demand, the Council more than doubled the time allocated to public speaking at one of its meetings in January 2012. 
Given the large numbers of people sometimes attending Council meetings, it may be necessary to have a police presence to manage access to the meeting  - members of the public wishing to attend the meeting to ask a question should not be intimidated or put off from attending in these circumstances. Following the large attendances, the Council then issued the following guidance in response to frequently asked questions about public speaking.

How do I  get to speak at Council meetings?

Anyone who wishes to speak at Council will need to notify Alison Steeples on 01773 841636 or email alison.steeples@ambervalley.gov.uk in advance with your name and address and the subject matter you wish to speak about. 

How long will given for public speaking?

Public speaking is held before the formal agenda begins and traditionally allows twenty minutes for the public regardless of how many people attend. However, at one meeting in January 2012, there were so many requests to speak that well over an hour of the meeting was set aside just for public speaking.  Whilst this was allowed it contributed to the meeting being conducted until very late into the evening, which can have a detrimental impact on the quality of debate on important issues which affect the public. It remains at the discretion of the Mayor, who chairs Council meetings, how much time is given to public speaking but the allocated time may only be extended in exceptional circumstances.

How will we be invited to speak?

At the start of ordinary meetings of the Full Council, the Mayor will invite members of the public to address the Council on any subject on the Agenda for that meeting to do with the Borough Council, for a maximum of three minutes.

Can I speak more than once about the same subject?

A matter may be rejected or you may be asked to stop your address if it relates to the same subject raised by a member of the public in the previous six months. You will be informed if this is the case after you have submitted your question in advance of the meeting. Details of the rules for the operation of this system are set out in a leaflet "Have Your Say. This rule allows the Council to encourage a mixture of views from different people.

How do I make my point to best effect?

To make the best use of your time, please be brief and to the point. You may find it helpful to rehearse what you have to say to ensure that everything is included. You will not be allowed to over-run your time.

• To avoid repetition it would be better to appoint one person to speak if you represent others with the same views.

•Written submissions, photographs or display material will not be accepted at the meeting.

•Avoid derogatory or defamatory statements. 

•Owing to the short time you have in which to put your views across, it is better not to bring plans or elaborate visual aids to illustrate your points.


Why do we have rules?

The aim of these rules is to make sure everyone has a fair say and that Council hears different opinions on a variety of subjects. Whilst the council appreciates the strength of feeling of members of the public who are motivated to speak it also needs to keep meetings to time and ensure that items in the remainder of the meeting can be debated in full.

Why do certain items exclude the public?

The increase in attendance also led to common questions being raised about the way agenda items are discussed in exclusion of the public.  Part of the Local Government Act allows councils to conduct certain items with exclusion of the public and media on the grounds that maintaining exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing that information. This Act is enforced in councils throughout the UK on a weekly basis. 

However, following feedback from the public the Council publishes on the public part of the agenda, the reasons why the officers are recommending why the press and public should be excluded from that particular item.

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