Ukip councillors have been accused of launching an “attack on democracy” after their call to reduce the number of questions councillors ask at meetings was agreed by the narrowest of margins.
The party called for the way in which members hold council chiefs to account to change in order to cut down on the amount of political grandstanding which it believe gets in the way of the authority’s business of actually making decisions.
Ukip received the support of the ruling Conservative administration despite the Liberal Democrat and Labour groups blasting the measure as “anti-democratic”.
The motion squeaked through after a tied vote at a meeting of the authority on Wednesday, with the Conservative chairman of the council Tony Hicks using his deciding vote to get it agreed.
At the moment councillors can ask questions of the people in charge of the council – those who sit in the authority’s cabinet – and expect an answer in public at a meeting of the council or the cabinet.
They also have the opportunity to ask a supplementary question to the answer they are given.
The Ukip motion will mean questions will only be answered in public if a written question has been submitted by a councillor to the relevant cabinet member and, in the opinion of the councillor, a satisfactory response has not been received within 10 days.
Ukip faced accusations that it had been put up to making the motion by the Tories - an accusation its councillors strenuously denied.
Labour Councillor Steve Lydon (Dursley) said: “To try to restrict the number of questions councillors ask at council meetings is bad news for local democracy.
“It is clear that Tories and Ukip have done a cosy deal. The Tories are clearly afraid of councillors asking questions as I see no other reason why they would have supported this anti-democratic motion.”
Councillor Klara Sudbury (LD, Charlton Park and College) added: “This is a fundamental attack on one of the powers that we have as backbenchers. It is absolutely bonkers.”
Speaking after the meeting, Colin Guyton, the Ukip councillor who put the motion, said he can “absolutely 100 per cent guarantee” the measure had nothing to do with the Conservatives.
“This is not an attack on democracy,” he said. “The intention is to try and improve the way the council works.”
The Conservative leader of the council, Mark Hawthorne, welcomed the motion.
“We were not elected to enter in a debating club - we were elected to serve on the behalf of residents,” he said.
“There is a need for us to return to the job we were elected to do rather than spending an inordinate amount of time listening to our own voices.”
The council’s constitution committee will now be tasked with drawing up the exact wording of the change which will then be put before the council for ratification later this year.