County council could set up seven online forums to engage with residents

Plans are in the pipeline to set up seven County Local Forums to enable West Sussex residents to ask questions of their county councillors.

Before the pandemic hit, the county council used 11 County Local Committees (CLCs) as a way to engage with the public and make decisions on Traffic Regulation Orders and grants from the Community Initiative Fund.

But, with the grant fund ending and traffic regulation decisions being placed in the hands of the relevant cabinet member, the council plans to drop the CLCs.

During a meeting of the governance committee, members discussed the idea of holding a year-long trial of local forums instead.

County Hall Chichester. Pic S Robards SR2105051 SUS-210505-160534001

Six online sessions have been held since June 15.

Richard Burrett (Con, Pound Hill) has been a member of his local CLC for 12 years.

He told the meeting that he felt the committees had ‘had their day’ but was unsure if holding the new forums online only would be the best way to go.

He added: “The most important thing here is getting residents involved and actually allowing them to have their say and for them to actually drive the agenda rather than it always coming from us.”

Kirsty Lord (Lib Dem, Hassocks & Burgess Hill South) agreed that CLCs had ‘lost their way’, with the emphasis tending to be on the council telling people what it was doing rather than asking them what they wanted.

A report to the committee showed that public attendance at the CLC meetings ranged from more than 50 to fewer than ten, depending on what issues were on the agenda.

With questions being asked about whether the new forums would be well-attended, Caroline Baxter (Lab, Worthing East) called on the council to better promote them to attract more interest.

She added: “I think this is a really good opportunity for us to empower our communities and get them to take more care and be more a part of the decision-making process.

“That is something we would need to work on and invite them to.”

The final decision on whether to scrap CLCs and continue with the forums will be taken by the full council. Its next meeting will be held on Friday July 16.