Lib Dems have the best record of questioning Lewisham Council


When a few days ago I received a copy of the Councillors’ questions for next Council (thanks to Cllr Mike Keogh for sending them to me) I saw that one of them (Q 64) had already the answer provided, presumably because the answer could be given by the officer that attends at questions, it’s in fact a question asking how many questions has each Councillor asked this Council year and at what cost.
Unsurprisingly the question was from Tory Councillor David Britton, the cost of questions is in fact one of his biggest pet hates.

The answer puts the cost of each question at an average cost of £168.
But how are these money calculated?

I’m told by Cllr Peake that the this figure of £168 had already been given and it breaks down in £160 for officer time and £8 for printing per question.
According to his calculation on this estimate it takes 3 and half hours of work of someone paid in excess of £83k per year to answer the AVERAGE question ((£160 ÷ 3.5) x (35 x 52) = >£83k). A spectacular inefficiency if true.
Now, take a look at the questions Councillors ask and make up your own mind. Is the average difficulty of those questions such that it would take as much to give an answer? I really don’t think so.

And by the way the council would still have to maintain the knowledge and admin infrastructure, and employ the staff even if half the number of questions were asked. Heads of service have to answer questions like this as part of their normal job, and they would perform much worse if they weren’t accountable in this way. The principle that the cost of questioning the administration is a price worth paying as it’s the main driver of fairness and efficiency is hard to dispute.

But tell that to Councillor Britton.
Anyway, leaving aside his warped reasoning and the irony that’s obviously lost on him that he asked a question to know the price of a question, the answer is excellent, the Libdems have the best record of questioning the Council’s performance on your behalf.

Since April the average Libdem submitted 8.5 written question, followed by the average Green with 7.3 question, far away down the average Labour asked only 1.6 questions and the average Socialist asked only 1 question.

And the Conservatives? Well, fortunately there’s Britton asking something because if he had left it all to the other two Conservatives at Council the average would have been zero but fortunately thanks to his 2 questions they have a very honourable average of 0.67 questions that each of them three asked on behalf of their Constituents this year.
A record they will no doubt soon write about in their leaflets.


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12 Responses to “Lib Dems have the best record of questioning Lewisham Council”

  1. Andrew Brown Says:

    Good to see you’re familiar with bar graphs Max!

    Is the average difficulty of those questions such that it would take as much to give an answer?

    Are you saying that Lib Dems ask the easy questions? 😉

  2. Max Says:

    He he, yes some. Those you think you know the answer but would like to have spelled out clearly. I asked a few in the past myself.
    It’s my first bar graph, I’ve done it and then thought “mhm, where have I seen you before?”.
    I must refrain from doing it too often (and have glum pictures of me taken).

  3. Clare Griffiths Says:

    The number of questions asked bears absolutely no relation to anything. It’s easy enough to bang in a load of written questions to bump up numbers asked and achieve absolutely nowt with them. I’ve seen this time and again in my day job.

  4. Max Says:

    Yours is the point of view of the officer at the receiving of questions and I’m sure that some offices like yours deals with a lot of questions coming from jsut about every corner and you get to see some crazy stuff, including bundles of preposterous stuff.

    And the odd questions from the public at Council can be a bit like those (not any of mine though;-)), but for a Councillor to ask something trivial in writing at Council means being exposed to attack from opponents so one wouldn’t want to ask silly things. Not knowingly at least.

    It’s true that one can submit just about anything and that’s why it’s important to go through them and see what they’re about. I think that most questions asked at Lewisham Council are genuine attempts to bring the administration to account and improve services, occasionally trivial stuff like this one of Councillor Britton are submitted too but that’s a rare event.
    They’re all available online so anyone can look through them and make a judgement. And as I always advise, attend Council from the public gallery, it’s really interesting, and you see the questions debated.

  5. Sue Says:

    That £168 figure is pretty meaningless without knowing the cost of answering a cllr question submitted through the casework system. I can’t see it being much more/less than asking it as a question to Full Council, and surely no one would suggest we should stop asking questions and raising issues on behalf of local residents? Quite proud to be up there in the top 3 interrogators myself, consider it a badge of honour!

  6. Sue Says:

    And following on from Andrew’s point, I think you need a bit more practice in Lib Dem bar graphology Max – this one isn’t at all misleading! 😉

  7. Max Says:

    Wear your badge with pride Sue!
    I have a little one too, I’ll bring it round to show it to Britton at next Council meeting, in fact I have four questions there:-0

  8. Max Says:

    By the way Clare, there has never been any race about the number of questions asked, it’s only because Britton asked about it that the numbers have been published, no one ever submitted questions to increase the number of questions asked and that’s why I think that this data does actually say something.

  9. Andrew Brown Says:

    no one ever submitted questions to increase the number of questions asked

    Well yes and no. Andrew Milton has written that he has a quota, which suggests that while the questions may not increase they may be artifically inflated.

  10. Max Says:

    I am not sure that Milton has a target in mind of how many questions to ask, only of how many it’s ok to ask, he may have referred to quota in that sense. In fact he hasn’t got any for the next Council meeting.
    I used to think that there was a limit of three and I thought that it was Milton who first told me so, but then I saw that people asked more and so for the first time at next meeting I’ll be asking 4, although 2 questions are actually two sides of the same question that I split into two for clarity.

  11. Andrew Brown Says:

    Maybe he’s more flexible these days, but certainly I recall him asking readers of his blog for inspiration so he could ask his “usual” three questions.

    Nothing wrong with this of course, and indeed I was occasionally tempted to put up suggestions, but suspect he would have found my Pyongyang style questions less than attractive. 😉

  12. Max Says:

    Ah yes, the Pyongyang type question, they warm your heart. How many types of questions there are you reckon? I think they can be catalogued, I won’t write a post on the types of questions at questions at Council, that would be too long and I’m not impartial enough. Sounds more like a fun subject for an academic study, either political studies or anthropology.

    Yes, Milton did ask the public through his blog if they wanted something asked if he didn’t have three questions to ask, and people did take the opportunity and suggested in fact. As you say, nothing wrong with that.
    But not just for Council, as the recent appeal for questions for transport operators currently on his blog also show. That’s public service blogging.

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