No-one in their right mind wants to attend council meetings

As a trainee hack you have to do things which aren’t particularly pleasant or exciting. It’s sort of a rite of passage.
Contrary to popular misconception, it’s not all stalking Cheryl Cole when you’re a cub reporter.
In actual fact, it’s more likely to be death knocks, covering the magistrates’ court, attending inquests or – if you’ve really upset the News Editor – you might find yourself sitting in a full council meeting. Otherwise known as purgatory.
You see, nobody in their right mind wants to attend council meetings (except perhaps the odd councillor, that is).
They are often the equivalent of going to watch the Vale. In other words you’ll never get those fruitless hours of your life back again.
Council meetings involve paperwork so tedious they make A-Level mathematics papers look sexy.
Officers asked to speak at these chuckle-fests talk in a language that no-one other than their fellow council employees actually understands.
I think it is a hybrid of the language that coppers speak – using three words when only one is needed and so full of jargon as to render it incomprehensible to other mortals.
Council meetings also veer from the sublime to the ridiculous because officers are often followed by elected members giving their two-penneth.
This is akin to watching your drunken uncle embarrass himself in front of the vicar.
At this juncture I should point out that not all councillors are clueless.
Over the last 20 years I’ve met some fine, erudite elected members who have worked their socks off for the people they represent.
They entered politics not because they were after the expenses but because they genuinely wanted to make a difference to their communities.
Unfortunately, I’ve also met a lot of smarmy career politicians who linger like a bad smell long after their uselessness has been exposed.
Then there are others simply so unsuited to the decision-making role that you wonder how they manage to dress themselves in the morning.
Yes, there is no hiding place in the council chamber and often it cruelly exposes the ineptitude and prejudices of ordinary people given a modicum of power and influence.
Mercifully, this is only usually witnessed by other elected members, council officers and journalists.
Generally speaking, to get Joe Public to attend a council meeting it would have to involve a vote on an issue very important to him or her personally.
You know the sort of thing: Can I open the 12th kebab shop in that row? Will you please stop unnecessarily bulldozing our homes? Etc., Etc.
Thus the decision to switch the start time of all full city council meetings from 2.30pm to 5.30pm in order to persuade more members of the public to attend just doesn’t add up to me.
I reckon you would have to be stupendously bored to be motivated enough to drive to the Civic Centre after getting in from work in order that you can “see democracy in action” as one councillor put it.
To illustrate just how dull and uninteresting such meetings are I will use the example of another local authority which – in a desperate attempt to appear interactive – has taken to ‘live-streaming’ its meetings via the internet.
When I asked how many taxpayers had actually watched these broadcasts I was told: “Counting our I.T. bods? Probably about five.”
Not a scientific study, granted, but you get the picture.
Sadly, apathy rules in this country when it comes to politicians and I’m afraid that goes for national as well as local politics.
You only have to look at the shameful turnout at the polls to see how disengaged with politics the majority of the population are.
One councillor pooh-poohed the idea of trying to attract more members of the public to council meetings by saying people would rather watch paint dry.
He’s got a point – Dulux do some lovely colours these days.
Unfortunately, until we find a way of improving the calibre of the people who stand for public office and popularising the soul-crushingly dull nature of the work they do, I would suggest the public gallery in council meetings is likely to remain sparsely-populated.
In the meantime we will have to leave coverage of these weighty matters to quite possibly the dullest people on the face of the Earth – municipal correspondents at local newspapers.
At least they get paid for sitting through it.


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