City chief says petition plan means the end for culture of secrecy

The council is to give petitioners a hearing
The council is to give petitioners a hearing
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CAMPAIGNERS will need as few as 250 signatures to ensure they get a hearing at the city council under a new petitions system.

Funding, local transport issues and the staging of events are likely to be at the heart of motions submitted for consideration later this year.

Petitions will also be considered if 20 traders and local businesses can group together to agree on a proposed policy.

City leader Andrew Burns said the new system was part of a raft of measures to make decision-making accessible for residents.

The Labour politician said local authority administrations have been “overly secretive” in the past and lacked dialogue with the public.

At the moment, only a handful of councils on the west coast of Scotland operate such a system. The Scottish Parliament operates something similar with its public petitions committee, although that only requires a single signature. At Westminster, a motion with 100,000 signatures is needed for a debate.

Traders and residents today welcomed the development.

Keith Hales, a barber shop owner and vice-chairman of the Leith Business Association, said: “I can think of a lot of issues I could get 20 businesses to sign up to, things that have taken a long time to be taken seriously.

“The council is opening up a whole can of worms. If the council has a process of recording the issues raised it will be a great change that will be welcomed by businesses.”

Caroline Burgess, who represented the Babies on Buses campaign group, said: “It’s a very good idea. It will make a lot of people feel that they have a voice in the community in which they live.”

The city council is preparing to be inundated with petitions, which will be examined by councillors appointed to committees this autumn.

The remit of the process is expected to be wide-ranging, although petitions aimed at affecting recent council decisions in the previous six months will not be considered.

It is hoped that issues of which council leaders are 
unaware will emerge.

Bids from groups and individuals aiming to influence issues already on the council agenda will be urged to attend committees and speak to elected members directly rather than go through the petitions process.

This will include the new policy and finance committee, on which the top council 
leaders will sit and vote on 
proposals.

Cllr Burns added: “Audit Scotland has highlighted the lack of scrutiny at this council and others, and if you think of some of the major problems that have gone awry in the past few years it doesn’t take a genius to link the two.”

The proposals will be put before the full council for approval in September.