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Wokingham District Council's 'State of the District' Debate: Lib Dems say it's 'Too little, too late'

September 8, 2003 12:00 AM

Wokingham Liberal Democrats have criticised the Tory Leader of the Council, Frank Browne, for keeping quiet about the annual State of the District debate taking place at Shute End on Thursday 25th September.

Councillor Tina Marinos (Lib Dem Councillor for Evendons ward and Chairman of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee) said, "The first State of the District debate was held last year, and it was a very disappointing affair. Neither the public who were invited nor the opposition had any idea what to expect. All they got was Frank Browne and the members of the Executive reading out very uninspiring speeches about what the Council was doing. Although it was hoped that the public would contribute to the discussion, they didn't know what was going to be discussed so they weren't able to prepare anything in advance.

"It is quite a daunting experience to stand up in full Council to speak, and it was unfair that our residents were expected to take their chances without any idea of how the debate was to be organised.

"As a result of getting letters from some of those involved saying how they would prefer the annual State of the District debate to be organised, the Overview & Scrutiny committee considered how future debates could be arranged to make them meaningful to our residents. Lots of suggestions were discussed and a list was sent to Frank Browne (listed in copy of letter to Frank Browne attached below).

"Here we are with just over two weeks to go before the debate, and we still haven't a clue how this debate is going to be organised. I am bitterly disappointed that Frank Browne has ignored the committee's ideas. If you're going to have a State of the District debate, then it should be organised and publicised well in advance so that the public can have a proper say and can make a real contribution to the thinking of the Council.

"One hastily thrown together debate a year does not give the public a positive message about how valued their opinions and ideas are."

Tina Marinos has written to Frank Browne reminding him of the Overview & Scrutiny committee's suggestions.

[Letter: ]

(8th September 2003)

Dear Frank


You will no doubt remember that the Overview & Scrutiny Committee reviewed the organisation of the State of the District debate last year, following input received from some of the people who attended the debate.

The [cross-Party] Committee unanimously agreed the following resolution:

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Thanks all those representatives from outside bodies and partner organisations who attended and contributed to the Council's first State of the District debate;

2. Notes that many interesting and useful ideas were put forward by representatives of outside bodies and partner organisations;

3. Recommends that the State of the District debate should be a special Council meeting in its own right;

4. Asks the Leader of the Council to consider organising workshops prior to the formal debate, so that ideas can be discussed and developed in a more informal atmosphere;

5. Suggests that the venue should be more appropriate to the occasion, with a proper public address system;

6. Regrets that the time allowed for organising the debate was insufficient to secure a wider audience;

7. Urges the Leader of the Council to allow more time for preparation next year to ensure the widest possible attendance and contribution to the debate;

8. Recommends that in order to make the State of the District debate more inclusive there should be the widest possible publicity and the topics for discussion should be published well in advance;

9. Urges the Leader of the Council to give priority to involving young people in the debate;

10. Suggests that in the future councillor contributions, while balanced between the parties, be limited in number to allow maximum opportunities for contributions from outside bodies and partner organisations.

I would be grateful if you would let me know if you have considered this resolution and what action you have taken on it. Please let me know who has been invited to the State of the District debate on 25th September and how the debate and any related events have been arranged.

As this will be the first State of the District debate at which our new Chief Executive will be present I have also copied this letter to Doug.