Warning over ‘lack of scrutiny’ as council cuts number of committee meetings

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Councillor Michael Marra said poverty is a "blight" on the city's future

A leading Dundee councillor has said he fears there will be less scrutiny of crucial decisions after plans to cut back the number of meetings were approved.

The number of service committee meetings will be reduced from 11 a year to seven and the 17 or 18 evening committee meetings currently held annually will be cut to 14.

Labour Lochee councillor Michael Marra has questioned the wisdom of the move.

He said: “On Monday night, the council approved the administration’s proposals to cut the number of council meetings.

“Thet night we were discussing arming the police and absolutely massive cuts to the council’s budget.

“These are the kind of issues we need more scrutiny of, not less.

“Discussions are now taking place at private briefings where the press are not welcome and the public can’t see what is going on.

“The council should be more transparent and open, not less.

“The decisions and votes will still be taken at council but the reality is policies are less likely to be challenged in open view. It’s a really worrying development.”

He added: “It runs against what the leader of the administration John Alexander said he would do — that he wanted the council to be more open and transparent.”

According to the report that went before the policy and resources committee, reducing  the number of service committees is necessary because of the “significant additional contribution of time and expertise” councillors are making to other formal meetings such as the Dundee Partnership Forum and the Dundee Health and Social Care Integration Joint Board.

There will be no change to the frequency of the licensing board, local review body or three committees: scrutiny, licensing and planning, which was formerly known as development management.

But council leader John Alexander dismissed Mr Marra’s claims.

The SNP councillor said his party has already taken steps to improve scrutiny, including setting up a scrutiny committee with an opposition member as chair.

He said: “Labour suggest that decisions would be taken in secret or by the backdoor and that is not only ludicrous, it’s a pathetic attempt to get a headline. It’s also a position that no other political group shared because everyone else read and understood the committee paper.

“It was the SNP group that set up the scrutiny committee and ensured that it was chaired by the opposition. This committee has the ability to decide upon the matters it scrutinises in addition to the standard council committees.

“It was the SNP that set up project boards for major capital projects from schools to the new train station for added scrutiny.

“I have also sought to engage with opposition parties by hosting quarterly meetings with leaders. Last week I hosted the latest meeting so that opposition members could raise issues with me directly. Unfortunately, Labour were the only party that failed to respond to the last invitation.

“Committee is the decision making body of the council, nothing has changed or amended that in any way.”