There is a meeting of the full Central Bedfordshire Council scheduled for tomorrow night, and the agenda includes the following motion proposed by Cllr Mark Smith:
"With local council elections occurring in 2015, Central Bedfordshire Council wishes to attract the widest cross-section of candidates to stand for election. Currently, overview and scrutiny meetings are held during the day. This policy prevents those in employment from fully participating in the democratic processes of the Council. The majority of meetings in our neighbouring authorities commence between 6 and 7pm.
Commencing January 1, 2015 my motion to Council is that all overview and scrutiny meetings should take place after 6pm in the evening."
The full council usually holds its meetings from 6:30PM but all other committees tend to meet during the day. Such meetings are also generally open to the public, either simply to observe the proceedings or (if registered to speak) for a chance to address the committee. Central Bedfordshire is not unique in holding daytime meetings, but there are plenty of councils, be they district, county or unitary, who hold meetings in the evening.
Cllr Smith's motion refers specifically to potential candidates seeking election, but the consideration also extends to the wider public and how they engage (or do not!) with the Council's decision making process.
Evening is obviously preferable to daytime for a lot of employed people, although not all work 9-5. Conversely, some people have childcare or other family commitments that give them flexibility during the day but they are unable to go out in the evenings. A further consideration is that Council meetings involve not only elected members but various and numerous officers who advise and report to the Councillors. Evening meetings would therefore demand overtime and/or more flexible working arrangements for these officers.
Finally, a lot of elected Councillors already have evening commitments with Town or Parish Council meetings and many other committees or groups which they may be expected to attend. Would it ease or further complicate their diaries to move more committees to the evening?
At the time of writing, I have no firm opinion for or against the motion and I shall be interested to hear the debate. I would also be interested to hear if people are for or against such a move, either because they have ambitions to stand for election or simply because they would like to attend Council meetings.