County Local Committees could be replaced with online forums
Plans are in the pipeline to drop County Local Committee (CLC) meetings and replace them with online local forums.
The 11 committees usually meet three times a year, allowing members of the public to ask questions of their councillors, but have not been held during the pandemic.
The idea of replacing them will be discussed by West Sussex County Council’s governance committee on Monday (June 28).
A report to the committee showed that public attendance at the CLC meetings ranged from more than 50 to fewer than ten, depending on what issues were on the agenda.
A consultation into whether to start the meetings again was held in the summer of 2020, receiving only 12 responses from the county’s 70 councillors and 22 from the town and parish councils.
They were consulted again on the plans to drop the CLCs completely.
Beccy Cooper (Lab, Worthing West) said it was ‘disappointing’ that the option to delegate more decision-making to the CLCs had not been considered.
Since it was decided as part of this year’s budget to cease the Community Initiative Fund, the only other decisions left to the CLCs were Traffic Regulation Orders.
The report to the committee said those decisions as well ‘could be achieved through other means’.
Referring to the relatively low number of attendees, Dr Cooper added: “The fact that there is low public engagement with CLC meetings is not a reason to stop them. It is a reason to work with local communities to find out how we can make them more accessible and engaging.
“Enabling and empowering communities is a key part of engaging with communities, and removing decision making responsibilities is a backwards step in our partnership approach to the people we serve.”
Kirsty Lord (Lib Dem, Hassocks & Burgess Hill South) said she had no problem with stopping CLCs in their current form but felt the online forums would need to be held at least as frequently.
Mrs Lord did not think that having one forum to cover a whole region would work.
She pointed out that, in Mid Sussex, people in East Grinstead would have little in common with those in Haywards Heath or Hassocks.
The idea of Traffic Regulation Order decisions no longer being left in CLC hands did not sit well with Shaun Gunner leader of Arun District Council.
Mr Gunner said: “Traffic management is a subject of great interest to local people and they, along with district councillors, are keen to maintain an input to these sometimes complicated decisions.
“District councillors are also often the first ‘port of call’ for local residents concerned about such matters.”
He added: “We feel strongly that there must be an alternative way for local residents and Arun councillors to be consulted and have their say about local proposals.”
If the CLCs are dropped, it will save the council just over £34,000 – one democratic services post.
The final decision will be made at a meeting of the full council.