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Council that can’t organise a vote up in a chamber

Council that can’t organise a vote up in a chamber

🕔05.Mar 2015

One-sixth of Birmingham’s 120 city councillors apparently failed to vote either for or against the authority’s 2015-16 budget at the most important meeting of the year.

Two days later the council had still not published a break-down of recorded votes on the budget and amendments, although reports suggested only 109 councillors ‘signed in’ to the meeting.

Chief Executive Mark Rogers said it was necessary to run the attendance register and electronic voting records past party leaders to “confirm the accuracy of the register”.

He added that two councillors, both Tories, feared they had “used the wrong voting station”, effectively voting in someone else’s name.

This is something that has happened occasionally since the electronic voting system was introduced. Councillors sometimes inadvertently use their neighbour’s voting pad rather than their own, leading to confusion and an inaccurate register of voting records that have to be amended.

On other occasions members have claimed they accidentally pressed the wrong button, voting no instead of yes or yes instead of no, and have asked for the records to be changed.

Most votes in the chamber are decided by a show of hands.

But councillors can demand that “names be taken” for the more controversial issues.

In any case, voting on a council’s annual budget must by law be recorded and the results published.

In Birmingham it is customary for final voting records not to be released until the minutes of the meeting are published, which is unlikely to happen until April.

But figures written down at the meeting by @newsinbrum blogger Pauline Geoghegan, and not disputed by the council, indicate that 98 councillors participated in the first budget vote, 103 in the second, only 91 in the third and 100 in the fourth.

It will not be necessary to employ Hercule Poirot to solve this mystery. There are a number of obvious explanations for the figures.

Clearly, 11 councillors did not attend the meeting, either because they were ill or away.

Some may have signed in but then left before votes were taken almost five hours later at the end of the meeting.

Some may have lingered for too long in the tea room, either accidentally or deliberately, and were unable to reach their seats before the council chamber doors were locked prior to the votes being taken.

It is possible that some councillors simply sat on their hands and did not vote for a budget that contained more than £100 million of spending cuts. This would enable them, when the voting records are published, to tell constituents they did not support the cuts.

Unusually, there is no option on the electronic system for councillors to abstain.

On the recorded webstream of the meeting chief legal officer David Tatlow can be heard telling the Lord Mayor that councillors have only two options “on the machine”, to vote for or against.

Anyone attempting to discover what happened by looking at the webstream will be disappointed. The Lord Mayor, Shafique Shah, simply states that the vote has been lost or carried and does not announce the figures.

It is certain that Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat whips will be poring over the printed read-out from the voting machine to discover whether any members rebelled against the party line.

Mr Rogers said any councillor could inspect the attendance register, which could also be photocopied and made public.

Sutton Coldfield Tory councillor Ewan Mackey is calling for the attendance sheet and voting records to be published immediately.

Cllr Mackey said: “It would seem that at least 20 councillors either didn’t attend the meeting or, if they did attend didn’t vote on the budget and the amendments. This is the most important vote of the year and surely all councillors have a public duty to participate.

“The problem is that this whole saga makes it look as if we can’t even organise a vote in the council chamber.”

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