A COUNCILLOR has denounced plans that would see the opportunity for public questions at Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) meetings restricted, as being similar to repressive rules in North Korea.

The council’s constitution committee has voted to stop people submitting questions on the day of council meetings, as it claims it does not give members enough time to answer questions properly.

Members of the public can currently arrive 30 minutes before the start of a council meeting to ask any questions related to council business.

But now, members of the public can only submit ‘urgent’ spoken questions by noon on the day before the meeting. All other questions have to be submitted in writing, four working days in advance.

The recommendation will be debated at the next county council meeting in December.

Leader of the county Liberal Democrats, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, criticised the move: “Shire Hall has been rocked by an appalling OFSTED report into children’s services.

"That report criticised the culture and recommended more openness. What we’ve seen today is a decision which flies in the face of that.

"It’s a resident’s democratic right to ask questions and this change is certainly not in the spirit of being accessible.

“The ability to ask verbal questions on the day of full council provides a great deal of flexibility for members of the public.

“If something is urgent you need to be able to come in and ask it.

“In making this change the Tories are abusing democracy and getting rid of the things which irritate them.

“This is Gloucestershire, not North Korea.”

In response, leader of GCC, Cllr Mark Hawthorne (pictured below), said Cllr Hodgkinson was exaggerating and called for an apology.

“Human Rights Watch says North Korean abuses of human rights are without parallel. Cllr Hodgkinson likes to exaggerate but comparing a small change to public questions with the murder of hundreds of thousands by their own government is too much even for him.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard:

“For the avoidance of doubt, the public have twice as many opportunities to ask questions today than when the Liberal Democrats ran things – and can still ask urgent questions with less than 24 hours notice.

“For comparison, Liberal Democrat run Cheltenham requires all questions to be submitted at least four days in advance of a meeting.”