Concerns after Fire Authority meeting has no questions from the public

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Bedfordshire Fire Authority Audit and Standards Committee 4 Jan 2024. Image via LDRS
Bedfordshire Fire Authority Audit and Standards Committee 4 Jan 2024. Image via LDRS

Questions from the public are an important part of the governance of the Bedfordshire Fire Authority and should be encouraged, a meeting heard.

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There weren’t any questions from the public during yesterday’s (4 January) Authority’s Audit and Standards Committee.

Cllr Steve Owen (Independent, Central Bedfordshire Council) said: “I am concerned that for meeting after meeting we don’t have any public questions.

“I take governance as a serious issue, both here and at other public service bodies, and it’s always a worry when the public do not make use of public questions,” he said.

He asked if the Authority’s monitoring officer, Graham Britten, knew how many public questions have been asked over the last two years.

“I bet it’s a very small number, possibly zero,” councillor Owen said.

Mr Britten replied that he had not been in the post for two years, but in the “year and a bit” he had he did recall questions being asked at a full authority meeting.

“As part of the governance review that was completed in March of 2023, we did have a look at public participation,” he said.

“And we’ve expanded the constitutional standing orders to facilitate more public participation when the agendas go out.

“I believe they are sent not only to the members, but they are also sent to the local media outlets, or certainly that’s what happens at Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes,” he said.

Nicky Upton, democratic and regulatory services supervisor, said the agendas are published on the Authority’s website and are not sent out to the local media.

Mr Britten suggested that meeting agendas could be sent to local forums.

Chief fire officer Andrew Hopkinson, said he would liaise with the fire service’s new head of communications and external affairs who has the objective to develop the participation and engagement with not just the county’s communities but also the business community.

Councillor Owen said: “I wasn’t expecting a solution to this at the meeting today.

“It’s worth a brief discussion about whether we’re reaching the public in such a way that they feel able to come to us and ask questions or make comments,” he said.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter