It is an important part of local democracy, to be able to talk directly to our local representatives and hear their replies in the public forum of an open meeting. Members of Herefordshire Women’s Equality Group are concerned that councillors often fail to give relevant answers to direct questions from the public at Council meetings.

The latest example of this failure was Cllr Shaw's response to my question on the gender pay gap at the last Council meeting. The written reply to my written question stated that further analysis was needed to better understand the reasons for the gap. At the meeting, I asked for information on the proposed analysis.

Cllr Shaw was sitting at the next desk. I could see that he read a pre-prepared answer. He spoke about the gender pay gap but did not address my question. “Analysis” did not cross his lips. When I pointed out that the councillor had not addressed my actual question, Cllr Wilcox, as Chair, refused to take this up and suggested instead that I write in. The process was disrespectful, but more importantly completely undemocratic. Surely a councillor should listen to the question and reply to the points raised directly, even if to say that he or she would research an answer and provide a written response? Surely the chair of the meeting has responsibility to see that councillors answer public questions?

With council elections fast approaching, readers may wish to think about how important it is that those we elect are willing to be fully accountable and respect the democratic process.

The minutes and audio recordings of council meetings are available on the Herefordshire Council website.

Barbara Shore