Open Letter to Will Godfrey for the Reinstatement of Democratic Access to Our Council
Statements to Council from the Public
As residents and organizations of Bath & North East Somerset, we are deeply concerned by the council’s new insistence that members of the public and councillors must submit full written speeches two days in advance if they wish to address the council, cabinet, or scrutiny panels.
We appreciate that this has historically sometimes been requested, but welcomed that, most of the time, it was not the case. Your change is very worrying. It acts as a barrier to political and community participation for many ordinary people. We ask you to consider the needs of residents of all ages and abilities as a matter of urgency and reverse this requirement.
The current constitution is clear in assuring the public and councillors the right to address the council, with only reasonable and proportionate requests for the council solicitor to view the subject matter in advance.
RULE 34 – PETITIONS, STATEMENTS AND DEPUTATIONS FROM THE PUBLIC OR COUNCILLORS[i]
All items must be submitted in writing (this to include transmission by e mail).
Advance notice of the petition, statement or deputation, setting out the subject matter must be lodged with the Council Solicitor no later than 2 clear working days before the day of the meeting at which the submission is to be made (e.g. Monday 5pm for a meeting on a Thursday).
Your new rule harms the interests of residents including, but not limited to:
1. The elderly: disproportionally, older people lack computer and email access. Their handwriting is often affected by medical conditions (e.g., arthritis, eye conditions), and they - again disproportionately - face mobility issues around the additional requirement of posting a hard copy letter to you by the submission deadline.
2. Many disabilities and medical conditions result in serious communications issues: from dyslexia and deafness (for instance, BSL users are often Easy-Read or pictorial print communicators) to neurological conditions.
3. Young people: encouraging young people to engage with democracy and the local environment they live in requires adults to support people under the age of 18 to voice their concerns. Many under 18 are not fully literate at an early age and will be frightened by the time frame and the need to keep to a script.
4. People who do not have English as their first language.
5. And the English rates of functional illiteracy (1 in 6, or 16.4%) suggests that over 30,000 friends and neighbours are more likely than most to avoid having to submit a written three-minute speech to (presumably well educated) elected councillors in a council chamber. You’re asking for a GCSE-standard piece of work as an “entrance exam” to be allowed to tell the council their views.
In each of these examples, submitting a full written speech is a much more significant ask than for others. The stigma of “less than perfect” written English can be very significant. You know this.
We know there are many ways people can make their views known. And we want everyone to be able to access all of them. How they talk to the council should be up to them.
Please reverse this decision. Please send a clear message to all residents that their views are welcome in Council, Cabinet and Scrutiny meetings.
and the original one can be seen here:
|Refill Bath||This drastic step undermines the democratic and free access and spirit of our local government and elected representation.
Without the ready, free, and unhindered access and conversations with critical friends and allies we would never have achieved so much on plastic waste, anti racism, and clean air
|Cllr Joanna||Wright||The council works for the public and should therefore operate in a way that hears that voice.|
|Gillian||Kirk||I feel strongly that this rule excludes so many from telling the council their experiences and views.|
|Bryn||Jones||I and others have struggled on several occasions to have meaningful dialogue through the official procedures for presenting a case to BaNES decision-making bodies. The system needs opening up, not narrowing.|
|Kathy||Cook||Any further obstacles to reaching out to our council presents serious problems - especially for community groups that often rely on volunteer endeavour|
|Yukteshwar||Kumar||Even article 34 of constitution is not clear and the council must take back its draconian decision.|
|Paul||Raithby||This is a threat to local democracy. Not everyone has the literary skills to write letters and this act excludes people who are better at speaking than writing. I really don't feel that this is necessary or progressive.|
|Taniya||Deb||Thoroughly undemocratic. Must be challenged|
|Matt||Cooper||Fair access to local democratic processes is vital!|
|Michelle||Creed||Because our Council are paid for by us the public and their job is to listen, solve problems, and represent us. Not to create problems and then hide from the disenfranchised electorate.|
|Katie||Tinne||The original prices worked well.
To provide the full written statement offers no flexibility.
|Alison||Cooper||Residents should be able to express their views to Councillors without pre approval censorship|
|Dave||Hayward||The council are hiding decisions, stopping free speach to hide their corrupt practices|
|Yuvraj||Kumar||I am 17 and I do not support this arbitrary rule.|
|Jonathan||Ford||Why are you making it difficult for people to have a voice???|
|Neil||Carter||Asking residents to put their concerns, requests, demands or statement of protest is to coral the power of expression through the written word. I would prefer a more collaborative process where the resident is assisted to make their intervention as powerful as possible without necessarily restricting the scope of communication.|
|Steve||Powell||I want Democracy, not this type of Libdem Fascism.|
|Annie||Beardsley||I agree that this rule will make access difficult for people with disabilities and without a digital presence. For on experience, many people prefer to speak from notes, and would be challenged by having to create a full written statement.|
|Bob||Goodman||I believe in freedom of speech|
|Lesley||Bees||Preservation of Democracy|
|Phi||Lodge||Why should a pre printed statement be provided? For what reason? Will councillors provide their printed comments prior to a hearing?|
|Dionne||Pemberton||Speaking at council meetings was key to the Save Bath Library campaign,it was also a fairly stressful experience and that was without needing to submit a speech in advance. Any tension to citizens to speak before elected officials should be removed, not added. A free and open democratic process is vital. Do the right thing please.|
|Gill||Mclay||I believe whole heartedly that our freedom and ability to speak openly is essential to living in peace and harmony. We should never be frightened to communication.|
|Jane||Samson||I am opposed to this erosion of democracy.|
|Luke John||Emmett||This action amounts to nothing more than censorship. Any resident should be encouraged to speak at a meeting and not have barriers placed in their way. Access to the council is a right not a privilege.|
|Helen||Reeves||It's important to allow everyone to speak to the council on matters that concern them and unnecessary barriers shouldn't be put in the way of that. This measure will also disproportionately disadvantage those who find expressing themselves in writing difficult.|
|Emma||Hooper||Undemocratic and worryingly inaccessible|
|Emma||Jackson||It is a fundamental right to speak to those who are ruling where you live. This change is protecting councillors from awkward questions. It is also discriminatory towards those with disabilities, even as simple as dyslexia. Please reinstate this historic right immediately.|
|petra||Schofield||You must revoke the request and allow democratic free speech|
|Anne||Coppola||At a time when electoral rights are being eroded and our institutions are sliding away from democracy, this kind of unnecessary rule-making is following down this very same path. Stop right now.|
|Lin||Patterson||As a former councillor, (2015-19), and a prolific campaigner (bus campaigns, public toilets, Citizens Advice Bureau, Avon Pension Fund, Climate Emergency Declaration petition with over 2000 signatures, etc), I can attest to the necessity of retaining the previous policy on public statements to the council. To impose a requirement that statements must be submitted in writing 2 business days beforehand is unreasonable and anti democratic. Previously public speakers had the option of submitting a printed copy, but it was not a requirement.
One of the planks in the election of the current council majority was "transparency" and "listening to the public". This betrayal of those values would have a chilling effect on democratic participation, eventually leading to mistrust, fuelling resentment of the council.
I urge you to reverse this unnecessary restriction on free speech to our elected representatives. This is an issue of utmost importance.
|Gillian||Taylor||SEN & early EHCP assessment for the children of BANES. I have personal experience x 2 of the lack of engagement with 2 children with SEN & little support. I am awaiting tribunal to challenge BANES decisions. This is a 'big aak' for the ordinary public to do to get any reasonable 'real voice' & puts public off raising concerns. Seems a very deliberate decision to worsen the already chronic problems BANES have? Access for correct treatment should be for all & access should be easier not harder these days I feel.|
|Kathryn||Jordan||There are no valid reasons for these proposed changes. They will just make it harder and in some cases impossible for members of the local community to have their say about things they feel passionate about, thus undermining democracy. People need more inclusivity not less, in order to feel respect towards our councillors and cabinet members and the decisions they make on our behalf.|
|Pam||Richards||It is reasonable to request an outline of the subject matter to be presented but not to request the full written statement|
|Rosalind||Trantor||This ruling will make it harder for various, often disadvantaged, sections of the community (listed in the letter) to comment on Council proposals, whilst favouring those who are well educated, computer literate and confident in the English language , and is therefore discriminatory.|
|Anita||Breeze||All individuals should be free to present what they wish in any public forum. The proposed introduction/reinstatement of a full written submission implies filtering of subject matter which flies in the face of freedom of speech.|
|Jenny||Ruskin||Because democracy is what we expect& want in our givnt government for the people by the people.|
|Mathew||Thomas||We must return to the original democratic system that was fair for all.
There are many sections of our community who will be harmed by this change.
|Mark||Newbold||Democracy in the UK is already crumbling, this rule brings about more breakdown of our democracy. It also discriminates those with disabilities.|
|Barbara||Gordon||This latest move appears to be unnecessarily authoritarian. It will discourage many from engaging with the Council and is undemocratic. Please return to the former arrangement.|
|Mark||Stricklin||What is wrong with open dialogue with our representatives? What is the council trying to hide?|
|Jack||Lomond||People need to speak truth to power, regardless of literacy|
|David||Ferris||You should not have to submit a verbatim 3 minute question, just the subject matter is sufficient. Anything else will help stiffle participation in local democracy|
|Annie||Spencer||It is very important that we can communicate with our council without being tied up in red tape which will make it more difficult for us to exercise our democratic rights.|
|Nicholas||Hales||It gives the council time to think up a response without the writer having the same right to reply to whatever new twist the council wants to put on their arguments. Not fair debate.|
|Andy||Halliday||I see this as avery negative step,and a potential obstruction to community participation in the desicion making process|
|Laura||James||This new amendment is a barrier to many marginalised groups. It must be overturned|
|David||Dixon||It's important that people can turn up and speak from the heart rather than script their speech completely. I understand that the speaker may wish to submit anything they had prepared after the meeting to help with the minutes, however I don't believe that having a speech scrutinised before being given in public is democratic at all.|
|Paul||Stansall||For social justice and democratic accountability by retaining freedom of speech in all its forms directed to our elected BANES Council|
|Helen||Eters||Democracy is the core of civilization so a vital part of a modern, fair government|
|Usha||Pearce||So that it is more accessible and democratic|
|Elizabeth||Adeline||Any Erosion of democratic liberties and rights is to be challenged|
|Mary||English||I have had to submit written speeches more than once to Bath NES council. Each time I do it, it takes DAYS, even though I'm a professional author. What happens to those that don't have those skills? Surely council access must be available to all of those regardless of their ability?|
|Karen||Hendon||I think it's appalling that the council effectively get to vet the questions up front. Gives them time to tweak their answers beforehand if you are even given the opportunity to ask a question.|
|Grace||Wiltshire||Democracy is about fully engaging the public and not putting up any barriers to a process that people find intimidating at the best of times.|
|Lisa||Brett||I recognize the need for Councillors to hear from the full range of people they are elected to represent, including; those with learning disabilities, those for whom English is a second language, and those for whom time is restricted and they want to speak from the heart.|
|B in Bath||Ability to access democratic process freely is key to having a true democracy. By bringing in these new requirements, the Council are making it significantly more difficult for the public to access them and bring matters to the Council, prioritising the Council's comfort and ease over that of the public|
|Karen||Warrington||Upholding democracy. Not allowing this Council to obstruct democracy & interpret Rules for their own political advantage & because they don't want to be challenged.|
|Steve||Crawley||Democracy relies on ease of access|
|Hilary||Eyley||Democracy relies on ease of access. Not everyone is able to plan and write ahead of a meeting. All voices need to be heard.|
|Beverley||Wallis||Rights of speech should not be gagged it's not acceptable !|
|Sue||Evans||It removes a democratic right from those who are less literate, have English as a second language or are, at all, intimidated by this sort of effort of composition. It is not necessary and unfair.|
|Mark||Shelford||My experience as a Councillor and on the Cabinet public engagement and scrutiny at these meetings is crucial to trust and confidence in the Executive. Fare enough to ask for the title of the talk but not for the contents as this could be seen as censorship.|
|Martin||Grixoni||Because I have been forbidden twice from speaking to the Council, and think this whole debacle is an affront to open local politics.|
|Charlotte||Hook||Not everyone is capable of writing a speech but is perfectly capable of having and expressing a valid and important opinion. This proposal is discriminatory on numerous levels and serves only to ensure that only certain people are able to access the services of the council meetings.|
|Minky||Jen||Freedom of speech|
|Peter||Andrews||Any erosion of our rights address our elected representatives in the council chamber is to be deplored and reversed. we need more democracy not less|
|Roy||Catson||Why is free speech important?
If the Council has knowledge of the question beforehand, they have time to cook up a disingenuous or evasive answer. Our Council relied of obfuscation, evasion and half truths. Why make it any easier for them.
|Chris||Batstone||The actions of BANES council has been an attempt to stifle the opinions of the residents and council tax payers of Bath & NE Somerset.|
|John||Buckell||It is important to have free unhindered democratic access|
|Michael||Gumn||Measures needed to make meetings manageable just be balanced with the need to make democracy accessible for all. You've got the balance wrong.|
|Marion||Rogers||I have 4 grandchildren who regularly use the park from age 5 to 9. The park needs to be upgraded especially for the older children. The skatepark is great but other things are needed.|
|Sue||Dawkins||So that I have the right to access the meetings|
|Laura||Fogg-Rogers||Only the most eloquent and time rich will be able to participate in council meetings...|
|Roger||Morrad||Such an illiberal policy presented by a liberal council cannot be allowed to succeed in the interests of transparency, fairness and democracy.|
|Dominic||Kerridge||pre approval prior to permission will be next|
|Adrian||Hibbert||Any action which curtails the ability of people to interact with their elected bodies and representatives further distances those bodies from those representative. There are currently many issues facing Bath which are arising as a direct result of the councils actions. There are many disgruntled people. Shutting down people's ability to interact with the council is not the solution. Council needs to listen to what people have to say. There are serious concerns about the competence and integrity of the council within the community in Bath.|
|Graham||Pristo||Councils need to be held to account. By allowing them time to prepare answers gives them an unfair advantage. Residents will stop questioning if bland replies are the given format!|
|Beryl||Maddison||It's a deterrent to open debate and designed to stifle opposition.|
|Jan Erik||Posth||In times of diminishing trust in our political institutions it is, in my opinion, of utmost importance that our pay council is open and transparent to the public. Regulations such as the proposed can only be perceived as opposed to this.|
|Cecilia||Luttrell||I feel strongly about removing barriers to participation|
|Susan||Yuille||Democracy is supposed to be a given right, however this arrogant un-democratic bunch of miscreants believe the indigenous citizens are irrelevant, so only the transient Uni learners have their needs pandered too.|
|Stuart||Shaw||We should not be making it more difficult for people to engage with decisions that affect them.|
|Rachel||Willis||Over 30000 people in B&NES are functionally illiterate. Many more are too busy to find time to attend council meetings, let alone provide a full statement ahead of time. This will stop people being able to exercise their democratic right to hold the council to account.|
|Sharon||Gillings||I've spoken at council and it is daunting. Another barrier is appalling- make engaging in democracy easy.|
|Elspeth||Rolls||A close family member can no longer write because of acquired brain injury, although he has clear views which are as cogent and valuable as those of any citizen. Requiring a written statement in advance disempowers him and many others not confident writing in English. Please reconsider this change which risks further damaging our democratic process and councillors' accountability.|
|Georgina||McLeod||There is not enough diversity and representation from different people which are truly representative of the people who actually live in Bath. The council has become a closed shop and lacks accountability and has become less democratic over recent years. Openness, accountability and democracy is what is needed to support all people.|
|Fiona||Remnant||We should be actively seeking to reduce barriers to democracy and encouraging all citizens to feel confident to represent themselves.|
|Margaret||White||I believe in true local and national democracy.|
|Edwin||Ascott||It's a fundamental cornerstone of democracy|
|Vanessa||Langford||A council is elected by its local community. The Council as a body is there to serve everyone and a person's literacy should have no bearing on their right to speak at council. This to me sounds like a case of "stay in your lane" - the council are cherrypicking those who they think should be "allowed" to speak and those who aren't.|
|Neil||Cade||Access is crucial to democracy and accountability|
|Michael||Clarkson||Free access to express our views to our elected councillors|
|Paula||Riseborough||To facilitate democratic processes among all groups of society and encourage those from all backgrounds to make their views known to BathNES Council|
|Lyn||Jacobs||I believe in freedom of speech, a fundamental right in our country.
This curtails the individual's right to make a public statement to our local councillors and to express a view which may, or may not be, the opinion of council at that time.
|Callum||Clafferty||Local democracy is so important to ensure healthy communities and dialogue between citizens and representatives. We must revert to the original system and get our democracy back.|
|Georgia||Young||Everyone should be able to speak without being tested.|
|Anthony||Comley||To allow fair and democrartic consultation. Trying to avoid fairness is against any reasonable government proceedure|
|Ruth||Shaw||I am a student at the university of Bath|
|Bernard||Brandon||The council should not implement the censorship as proposed. Freedom of speech and transparent accountability are in issue here as is the code of human rights. If council or councillors are criticised so be it!!!|
|McQueen||David||You should make it easier to lidten to your community, not harder. If you choke democracy locally you will make more mistakes and are setting yourself up asa petty tyrany.|
|Phil||Burner||Written and verbal contributions should be accepted at any meeting. This is a barrier.|
|Dean||Robinson||The right to question people freely is so important to make sure things are done for the right reason. Otherwise it's no longer a Democratic system|
|Kevin||Barrett||We live in Bath not Belarus|
|Etta||Lodge||It is important to be able to challenge and address issues within our community, and especially if we don't agree with what's going on. Changing this rule will make the people of Bath null and void and not have a voice anymore!|
|Rachel||Swithinbank||Freedom of speech and holding people to account.|
|Suzanna||Cardash||It is unfair and restricts citizens voices while allowing the council to veto awkward questions and preparing their own responses.|
|Hannah||Coppen||Free speech is important to me and so is accountability of those who are democratically elected.|
|Rebecca||Jenkinson||I am moving to Bath. I value democracy and in order for it to operate fully everyone must feel empowered to engage in debate.|
|Laura||Shipley||Free speech- even when people don't like to hear it- is a cornerstone of a democratic state. Also people are usually only hoping for better and the council should be able to take constructive criticism|
|Helen||Bailey||Freedom of speech|
|Christopher||Harwood||For the reasons stated ,plus the fact that why cannot officers be " put on the spot" so to speak as questions submitted a minimum of days before usually result in a bland answer with no substance .|
|Aislinn||Strawson||Everyone should have the right to challenge their council - it's why they are democratically elected. Don't silence your constituents|
|Alex||Hucks||Our council do not do the right thing for the residents of this city|
|John||Sparey||The restrictions are too wide ranging and amount to a gagging order - for example no complaints are allowed about the actions of officials or councillors. Surely in an open society officials and councillors should be answerable for their actions - always, of course, within the bounds of legal restraints.|
|Sara||Strawson||This is yet another erosion of our democratic rights. The Council is afraid of anyone challenging their decision? Absolutely absurd for this to be even suggested. I am, to be honest, disgusted with the Council for this. I voted them in and now am completely in doubt as to whether to vote for this particular Council again!!|
|Barnaby||Strawson||The new rule is a case of intentional discrimination to make things easier for the councillors. Everyone has an equal right and should have an equal ability to address the council.|
|Bethan||Strawson||People should not have their free speech taken away from them. People have the right to challenge issues they do not agree with.|
|Peter||Strawson||Any increased restriction, or limiting of, access to the Council by the public is unwelcome.
In the current age where the central Government is bypassing both parliamentary and public scrutiny this action could well discourage engagement. Indeed it could be seen as that being the objective.
I do not believe the council would wish this. Please reconsider this.
|Emma||Shaw||Democracy! The right to impact change in our city.|
|Rachel||Hampson||Its blocking access to democracy for some members of society|
|Rhian||Drinkwater||Please do not put barriers between people and their local government â€“ this is undemocratic.|
|Miranda||Dockley||People may be illiterate or find it easier to be verbal and chalkenging this policy avoids any bias from actors within the council from refusing to hear a speech verbally. This policy is going backwards.|
|Georgia||Hughes||Freedom of speech and equality. People need to feel heard. Council don't do a good enough job and need to up their game if anything, perhaps then they'd get less difficult questions|
|Linda||Seward||A ludicrous and unnecessary action by this Council trying to halt the public's right to address the Council and its representatives. It is discriminatory and an affront - it's so ludicrous the requirement to submit speeches in writing in advance for â€˜vetting' has even made it to the pages of Private Eye!|
|Andrew||Guilor||Protecting democracy and those who cannot access modern communications|
|Floella||Sicolo||To be heard democratically and timely as occasions/ topics arise, not on the timescales or a governing body/ group|
|Jemma||O'Brien||Democracy is essential and asking residents to produce their views in writing can alienate those who find it difficult to express their opinions in this way. It also ensures that those in power can pick and choose which views they want to be heard in advance, meaning some may never be counted.|
|Miranda||Harwood||Our council is there to to represent the people of BANES and they should not be inscrutable|
|J J||Comley||Because I believe in free speech and wish to continue living in a democracy. This gagging is one of the most frightening things I've learned of since Putin invaded Ukraine. Please somebody explain the meaning of two word to our councillors. Democratic and Liberal!|
|John||Chapman||It's just very wrong. What are they afraid of?|
|Laura||McKechnie||The council must be open to public challenge so that the public can have confidence in their decisions.|
|Helen||Chapman||I believe in a democratic society that debates should be held in public, and provide the opportunity for members of the public to participate.|
|Phil||Dunning||I object because it's discriminatory and why read something out at a meeting if Council already has a copy.
Poor Democracy B&NES
|Kathy||Beadle||Democracy is our right|
|Helen||Self||It is imperative that all residents have equal opportunities to make representation to the council, and for a significant number of people, a formal piece of writing is a barrier to their voices being heard.|
|Larissa||Thompson||Democracy and accessible free speech should be protected and encouraged at BANES council meetings - not eroded.|
|Alex||Whittle||Why is freedom of speech important to me? Heaven help us...|
|Andy||Hoyes||The council should welcome comment and involvement of their constituents, not make it more difficult. This type of censorship is the type of thing that would happen in Russia and should not be tolerated in the UK.|