Should it be easier for campaigners to get petitions debated by Wakefield Council?

Coun Gordon believes lowering the signature threshold would make the council more accountable and accessible.
Coun Gordon believes lowering the signature threshold would make the council more accountable and accessible.

The number of signatures required to force a petition to be debated by Wakefield Council has been branded "ludicrous".

Councillor Tom Gordon, the local authority's sole Liberal Democrat member, says that 15,000 signatures is too high a threshold, and wants the number cut to 5,000.

Petitions not debated in the chamber can be passed to the relevant council department, the local authority's policy document says.

Petitions not debated in the chamber can be passed to the relevant council department, the local authority's policy document says.

Any petition to the local authority which garners enough support to trigger a debate, entitles the organiser to give a three minute presentation to councillors, who can then decide how the issue should be dealt with.

Petitions with 7,500 signatures can prompt a senior council officer to respond to the issue at a public scrutiny meeting, while Wakefield Council's policy says that smaller petitions are passed to the relevant department for consideration.

But Coun Gordon, who was elected in May, has said it should be easier for taxpayers to start debates in the council chamber.

He pointed to the fact that a petition to Parliament only takes 10,000 signatures to trigger an official response, though only those with 100,000 signatures or more prompts MPs to debate it.

Coun Gordon was elected as a councillor for Knottingley in May.

Coun Gordon was elected as a councillor for Knottingley in May.

The ruling Labour group responded by saying that all petitions from residents were welcome, regardless of how well they were supported.

Coun Gordon said: "Residents want to know that we are discussing issues that matter most to them.

"It is absolutely ludicrous is that under the current council rules it requires more signatures to get the council to acknowledge and debate a petition here in Wakefield than it takes for a petition to get an official response from Parliament.

"The ruling Labour group here in Wakefield only want to talk about their own agenda.

"If they have any respect for the people of this district you would think that the council could find time to give a group of 5,000 people, with a common issue or problem, just three minutes to hear them speak and 15 minutes to debate how to proceed on this issue."

The issue will be debated at a full council meeting later this month.

In response, Labour's chief whip, Councillor Richard Forster said: "Coun Gordon may not be aware but the council already welcomes any petition, no matter how large or small, as a way in which people can tell us their views and request that action be taken.

"Under the current rules a petition can be sent in on behalf of as little as 20 signatories.

"We look forward to a healthy discussion at council on the merits of Councillor Gordon’s proposal.

"However, we are proud of the many ways in which we engage with the public, including being one of the first councils to have members of the public on its overview and scrutiny committees."

The council's current policy on petitions can be read here https://www.wakefield.gov.uk/Documents/consultation-and-engagement/petitions-scheme.pdf

Local Democracy Reporting Service