Councillors consider monthly surgeries in Staffordshire town

Monthly surgeries are being considered to enable Stone residents to raise issues with town councillors – but concerns were raised about proposals for outdoor sessions and body cameras.

Stone Town Council's office in Station Road, Stone.
Stone Town Council's office in Station Road, Stone.

“Street events” and the wearing of body cameras by town councillors were proposed by Steve Walley to reduce safety risks to community leaders in the wake of attacks on politicians in other areas.

Stone Town Council is investigating a proposal to start holding monthly drop-in events where residents can meet their representatives and raise any concerns they have. Councillor Walley first put forward the proposal last year and was asked to bring more detailed plans back to fellow councillors.

A report presented to this month’s town council meeting said: “Holding street events at various locations across the town ensures that all residents have a reasonable opportunity to attend.

“The fact that the events are ‘pop up’ removes the need for appointments to be made and both the flexibility and visibility of holding the events in the street should encourage more attendance and make it more likely to meet and engage with passing residents who in other circumstances might not consider getting involved and/or were not even aware that an event was taking place.

“The safety of councillors was highlighted as a key concern and the tragic murder of Sir David Amess MP at a constituency surgery in South Essex on October 15th elevates this concern. To address this, it is proposed that any planned events should only go ahead based on a minimum of three councillors in attendance and that all councillors in attendance should wear body cameras provided from a town council pool of four purchased devices.

“Holding the events in outdoor locations reduces the safety risk because councillors will have more opportunity to evade would-be attackers as opposed to if they were based inside an office or building.’

But the prospect of meeting outside and wearing cameras was not welcomed by fellow community leaders.

Councillor Jill Hood said: “To ask this council to wear body cameras when they are talking with the public to me is alien to everything I believe in. The idea of a body camera is to record anything illegal, possibly an attack.

“People are angry at what’s happening in this country and to me it’s scary. They are having their living standards taken away from them and there is an anger that people can’t afford everyday items like food or heating.

“Are we expected to become ninjas? Are we going to be standing out in the street expecting the general public to launch attacks because we are standing out in the street?

“Are we advertising to the public where we are going to be? I hope not.

“I work as a councillor in that I’m very accessible via email, phone or Facebook, or people will approach me in the street and we will sit down and have a coffee. I don’t see the point of having a surgery out in the public – frankly that defeats everything a surgery is about.

“We can’t be standing out in the street seeing people where they can be overheard, sometimes discussing very personal problems they have. And we would become sitting ducks – I can’t support this, I’m sorry.”

Councillor Jim Davies said: “I think we all agree it’s important we face the people who elected us to be here and call to talk to us and express their concerns. But I don’t like the sound of us standing on street corners like we’re handling betting slips.

“I think the best way of doing this would be to facilitate a Zoom session where everybody on the town council comes on and people speak to a councillor for any particular thing they have of concern.”

Councillor Rob Kenney said: “The idea of holding surgeries is a welcome idea. I prefer the initial proposals put forward at the meeting (last year) where we have them down at the Frank Jordan Centre.

“I would prefer it myself, if I was having a surgery, for it to be in a comfortable and private environment. I understand the risks to safety but I just don’t like the idea of having it outside.

“I also find that body cameras are a bit threatening. It gives the wrong signal from a councillor to be sat there wearing a body camera while someone is sat there talking to you.”

Councillor Philip Leason said: “The idea of people wearing body cameras recording what people are saying could put people off if what they are saying to a councillor is highly confidential. I don’t think use of a body camera is a good idea.

I think it is important that people do see their councillors. One of the criticisms is they only see councillors at elections.

“Looking at where other councillors have surgeries they are certainly not an open target. (Eccleshall councillor) Peter Jones, for example, uses Eccleshall Library.

“It’s important people can go there and have confidence what they are saying is not overheard. There is some merit in having these monthly meetings – I don’t know if there is any offices we can use here, or the Frank Jordan Centre or other locations within the various wards. We need to look at it in a bit more detail.”

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