How many signatures on a petition do you think Cambridgeshire County Council wants before it will allow the petition to be debated by councillors? 500, maybe? A thousand – that would demonstrate that local people felt strongly about something. 5,000 signatures would be a pretty major response.
In fact, the County Council requires at least 15,130 signatures before it will debate a petition presented to it – that’s nearly five times the adult population of Sutton. And so restrictive is the County Council’s policy on this, that since it was introduced there has never been a debate triggered by a petition.
But moves are now afoot to try to change this. A Cambridge county councillor, Ian Manning, will be proposing a motion to the County Council at its meeting on 16 July, to change the rules so that only 3,000 signatures would be needed on a petition before the council would have to debate it. Cllr Manning also wants each political group on the council to be able to reply to questions put to county council meetings by members of the public, with these responses published on the council’s web site.
Too often people go to a lot of trouble to collect petition signatures, or take time off work to attend meetings to question the council about something, only to be told dismissively that a council officer will write to them at some future date. That’s just not good enough. All credit to Cllr Manning for trying to bring some light into the darker corners of local democracy.