Today, over at County Hall the Communities Scrutiny Committee met. A little gem of a item was Petitions. This was an idea brought in by the last Government to allow Local Authorities to at least look at issues raised by the Public. This was brought about by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

Full Agenda Here Link

Cornwall Council has to implement this in two stages. Firstly, it has to have in place a working system of allowing a Petition to be received in paper form by no later than the 15th June 2010. Secondly, it must have a online facility by no later than the 15th December 2010.

Now the question is what makes a petition? Well, this very point was discussed at the Committee today. There were a few different views on how many people it takes to make a Petition (no jokes please). The figures ranged from 100, 50, 25 or 10. The 10 figure was the one laid out in the report. After a debate, a vote was taken and the figure of 25 was voted on and accepted.

The next part was who could submit a Petition. Now this was a fairly clear cut decision by the Committee. It felt that only those who live, work and study in Cornwall would have the right to submit a petition to Cornwall Council. Those not meeting that requirement would not have their petition accepted as official. There is also no age limit on who can submit a petition or sign it. So as long a you can make your mark in pen, pencil or crayon it will be accepted.

Next up was the point on how many signatures would it take for this petition to be presented to Full Council to make a decision on whether to take further action, accept the proposals, do nothing, or to commission further investigation. The petition author would receive a written conformation of the decision. Now the figure agreed was 5000 signatures for it to be debated at Full Council, but a lesser number was agreed upon for it to be discussed at the Community Networks (CN).

This figure was 1% of those who live within the CN. I felt that it would be best served and clearer for the public to understand if a figure was given. I believe the figure using the 1% would be around the 250 mark, But that would depend on each CN as they are not all alike.

The last part was on the appropriate threshold for requiring officers to give evidence on any aspect of a petition. This was agreed to be 1000 signatures.

At the end of the day there will be a cost to you the tax payer to collate and action these Petitions because Cornwall Council has to do this because the Government passed the Act. No figure was given either in officer hours or for the cost to implement this because they don’t know how many petitions they will get. It’s a sort of wait and see plan. My guess is that we will receive quite a lot at first, then it may reduce.Then again they said this with F.O.I. requests, and we get several hundred a month of these.

I personally have my doubts if this will work. I hope the system will not be abused, but used to highlight local and Cornwall wide issues that are important to people. We (as I have said many times) are here to serve the Public. I am just more worried about this snowballing into a huge cost for Cornwall Council with little action or results from it.

Now these recommendation will now go to Cabinet for their tweaks and comments. This will then pass onto  the full Council who will make the final decision on what makes a petition. No doubt the same points raised today will be raised again, but at least the 123 Members will be allowed to air their views and comment.

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