Councillors at the authority’s top table will field written questions from anybody living or working in Lancashire who has a query about an issue being considered at County Hall’s monthly cabinet meetings. The relevant cabinet member will reply in writing within five working days of the gathering.
It is part of a wider overhaul which will see all county councillors permitted to ask questions at cabinet meetings of the Tory-run authority for the first time in over three years. They will be able to put their posers in person - along with a follow-up - and will receive a verbal response.
Speaking rights at cabinet have been restricted to portfolio holders - who each have a particular area of responsibility - and the leader and deputy leader of the main opposition Labour group since early 2018.
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That followed a claim by the then county council leader Geoff Driver that some councillors were hijacking the decision-making discussions for political purposes and turning the event into “a circus”. He later publicly accused former Liberal Democrat group leader David Whipp, who lost his seat on the authority in May's local elections, and “one or two others” of using the occasions to “promote themselves”.
Under the new arrangements, any county councillor will be able to ask a question in person during a 30-minute slot before the formal business of the cabinet meeting begins.
Current County Hall leader Phillippa Williamson said that there would be “many benefits” to the move.
The decision - taken at the authority’s latest cabinet meeting - was welcomed by deputy Labour group leader Lorraine Beavers. However, she called for the removal of a requirement for all questions - from councillors and the public - to be submitted by midday on the Monday before the cabinet gathers.
County Cllr Beavers said it was a “disjointed” approach and claimed that having the questions asked in real time on the day of the meeting would enable councillors and residents to feel that they were “being included in the decision-making process”.
However, deputy council leader Alan Vincent said that questions asked in advance would still be “taken into account” when decisions were actually made.
Urgent written questions submitted before 12noon on the day of the meeting will also be considered for inclusion at the discretion of the chair if they could not reasonably have been put forward by the earlier deadline.
Councillors are also able to submit questions in writing - and will have to do so if they are in relation to items in the private “part two” section of the meeting.
Only one question can be submitted per person each month and must be related to the cabinet agenda. Questions could be ruled out of order if they are deemed “defamatory, frivolous, vexatious or offensive”.