CONSERVATIVE leaders at BCP Council have been accused of trying to reduce critical comments by making changes to the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee structure.

The system is supposed to put proposals to the test before they become policy.

The ruling Tory group say the changes will widen the number of people who can take part in the process with more opportunities for in-depth investigations on some issues.

An earlier debate on the proposed changes led to the April council meeting being adjourned and also resulted in a heated debated at this week’s meeting.

Cllr Andy Hadley said he believed the Conservative group simply did not like any scrutiny of their actions and were only making changes to reduce the chance of public criticism but Cllr Judy Butt said the changes would better allow the voice of the public to be heard before policies were finally voted on.

Said Cllr Tony Trent : “Quite frankly for things to work properly they need to be scrutinised – even though you don’t often like the answers you get, sometimes you get a better answer.”

Cllr David Brown said he was beginning to wonder why he bothered turning up if all opposition views were going to be ignored: “they (the Conservative group) don’t want to be open and transparent, they want to reduce scrutiny…it’s a complete attack on democracy, it’s an attack on what the residents of BCP voted on three years ago,” he said.

Christchurch councillor Mike Cox said the administration used words such as openness and transparency but appeared not to understand what they meant.

“What your are doing is strangling scrutiny because you don’t like it… you are just cowards if you do that… what you are trying to do will make BCP even more dysfunctional than it is at the moment,” he said.

Conservative Toby Johnson claimed the overview and scrutiny committees has been mis-used by opposition councillors as a “political attack bear pit” which he said had led to a broken system which needed mending, “let’s just get on with it.”

Cllr Millie Earl won applause from the public gallery for her claim that the changes were nothing more than an attempt for the council to further ignore the views of resident.

“Residents are angry and frustrated at the way this council is ignoring them and this is just an attempt to ignore the residents even further,” she claimed.

Deputy council leader Philip Broadhead said the opposite was true – that the changes would give residents more opportunity to comment on proposals and more chances to investigate council policies.