'Tories hijacked the AGM'

THE ruling Conservatives on the town council have been accused of 'hijacking' the annual meeting for their own agenda.

THE ruling Conservatives on the town council have been accused of 'hijacking' the annual meeting for their own agenda Steve Gazzard, the new leader of the Lib Dem opposition, made the accusation after the format of the meeting was changed, he says, without any consultation with his group which holds 11 out of the 25 council seats.On Monday night, the annual meeting, traditionally a grilling of councillors by the public, had a different format.Although the question and answer session was still a major part of the meeting, much of it was devoted to a Powerpoint presentation - and the council inviting the public to participate in a 'brain storming' session to list the future priorities for the town.The idea of Community Liaison Panels were also proposed, where interested groups could have a greater influence on council policy.These were included under the headings, community safety, transport, economy and the environment.Cllr Gazzard said: "It was portrayed by the mayor that the Lib Dems were consulted about these community panels."We were not consulted in any way and, until last night, we had no knowledge of the scheme."He added: "We do not think it is the way the annual town meeting should be conducted."Had we been consulted, we would have strongly disputed the arrangements, as we firmly believe this meeting is for people to scrutinise the work of the town council and not to receive Powerpoint presentations from the ruling Conservative group."He was concerned the public had been restricted to talk about certain topics, which was 'totally out of keeping' with the ethos of the open town meeting."We feel they have hijacked for their own purposes the one time in the year the public get the chance to question our decisions."Conservative group leader Lynne Elson said: "This should not be about party politics, but the need to listen and to find a way that means the voice of residents can be better heard. "I personally spoke to the leader of the Liberal Democrats and suggested cross-party working and full joint participation in the meeting. I later received a response stating that the Liberal Democrat Group had unanimously declined to take any part in the meeting - so there is not much more we could have done to make this non-political.