DCSIMG

Chamber view by James Illingworth

The police car outside the Town Hall after being called by council officials last night (Wednesday)

The police car outside the Town Hall after being called by council officials last night (Wednesday)

 

A WIGAN councillor was ejected from a full council meeting on Wednesday for disobeying instructions not to tweet during proceedings.

Although the sight of an elected member being escorted from the Town Hall by police officers is a rare occurrence, meetings of the full council are often brought into disarray.

Our reporter James Illingworth wrote this opinion piece last year. It appears the advice has not been taken on board ...

Walkouts, fall outs, booing, jeering and slow hand claps - it sounds like a review of a particularly poor Christmas panto.

But, no, it’s just another evening in Wigan’s council chamber as the borough’s representatives convene for their latest meeting.

Wigan Council chamber should be a place of reasoned debate but frequently it feels like a schoolyard.

In more than a year’s worth of full councils I feel like I’ve already seen it all. While other local councils wrap up their business in less than half an hour, Wigan has hit the 10pm cut off point almost every time.

I have come to accept that a meeting ending with the same amount of councillors it started with is a rare occurrence. And last week’s was the first for a long time that was devoid of references to Stalin or Hitler although the term “dictatorship” did crop up.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Mayor Billy Rotherham - and former first citizen Coun Myra Whiteside - whose often polite but occasionally more forceful efforts to maintain order during meetings are often in vain.

Mayor Rotherham told the chamber last week that he had been reminded of the need “to show respect to one’s colleagues” while attending a recent citizenship ceremony. “We should all remember that, ” he urged of his fellow councillors.

But an hour later, four ward representatives had left the town hall before two motions had even been discussed. One had been accompanied out by a juvenile slow hand clap.

I will admit that, at times, the acerbic comebacks across the political divide can be entertaining, as they are delivered for that purpose. But in politics, as is the same in most walks of life, there is a fine line between good-natured ridicule and unnecessary personal attack.

This fine line is one that seems to be crossed on a regular basis and is one of many reasons why the meetings are often undermined by apparent personal vendettas that would not be out of place in a soap opera.

The political make up of the council does have a sometimes stifling effect on debate. Not once has a motion submitted by a Labour councillor been rejected. Not once has an opposition councillor’s motion been accepted - as far as my memory serves.

This is not a criticism - far from it - the make up of the council is the will of the Wigan electorate. But the result is that too often healthy debates descend into mud-slinging about what is going on in Westminster. Or, as in the latest meeting, arguments about what happened in Westminster a decade ago.

Soon the meetings could be filmed because of a change in local government regulations, either by the council themselves or members of the public or myself and colleagues from the press

It remains to be seen whether this could curb the more raucous behaviour or simply provide more of a platform for off the topic soliloquies.

No-one wants discussions to be cut, that is what the meetings are about. But something needs to change. Yes, issues concerning Wigan have a national context, but surely the borough’s public would expect the majority of debate in Wigan’s council chamber to concern them directly, not national politics. I’m sure there is already a place that national elected members meet up regularly to discuss that.

The over-arching matter at hand is that members of the public would be shocked, dismayed, concerned and embarrassed by the way some of their elected representatives have acted in full council meetings in the past year.

And this rather over-shadows at times the interesting and crucial debates that have also been heard. Some of the antics should have been left behind in the playground.

Am I hoping for meetings wrapped up in less than half an hour?

Of course not, Wigan is a large borough with the councillors serving hundreds of thousands of residents.

There are issues to be discussed, topics to cover and decisions to be ratified.

But surely there is a more efficient and respectable way to achieve this than what is currently in operation.

 
 
 

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