Ukraine Crisis: Central Bedfordshire councillor's dismay that 'urgent' Russian investments question faced a two-month council chamber wait

Question was submitted by midday on day of invasion but missed deadline for evening meeting

By Euan Duncan
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 9:04 pm

A councillor whose Ukraine-related question to a Central Bedfordshire Council meeting was rejected until the local authority assembles again in two month's time wrote to the chief executive demanding an answer.

Independent Flitwick councillor Gareth Mackey was prepared to call an extraordinary meeting of the council under the provisions of its constitution to debate the issue of potential CBC Russian investments if necessary.

In an email to CBC chief executive Marcel Coiffait, he describes the urgency of the matter as "clear" and the council's response "insensitive", saying: "I believe members and residents deserve an answer to this question. CBC must show leadership on this issue."

Councillor Gareth Mackey / CBC HQ

He submitted the question by midday last Thursday (Feb 24th) ahead of the council's budget meeting that evening.

He said on social media: "As the tragedy of the Ukraine evolves, people cannot help but feel both outraged and afraid.

"I'm sure many share my feeling of shock that violent thugs once again trample democracy under their boots at the behest of a power mad dictatorship.

"I'm sure we all want the Russian State to suffer the consequences of its illegal invasion of the Ukraine.

"While the residents of Central Bedfordshire perhaps can’t do much, we can ensure that we don’t give Russia any financial support via our investments or by other means.

"To this end, around midday on Thursday, (Feb 24th) I submitted an urgent question to the CBC leader for our meeting that night."

It read: “In light of the barbaric invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine by Russia, can the leader confirm that this council has no interests, investments or contracts with any companies directly or indirectly linked to Russia?

"This might be (Russian multinational energy corporation) Gazprom, for example, which some schools use. If we do, can he confirm these will be ended immediately where possible?

"That way we ensure no support, direct or indirect, is given to the Russian State and its dictatorship.”

Councillor Mackey received no confirmation that the question would be answered as the meeting began.

He was later told he missed the deadline for ‘urgent questions’, which was at 9am that morning, and that the matter would be added to the agenda for the next meeting in two months' time.

"Now, I don’t know about you, but I understand the definition of ‘urgent’ to mean something that requires pressing attention because of often unforeseen circumstances where advance planning isn't always possible," explained councillor Mackey.

"I think the early morning invasion of a country by a nuclear power bent on conquest and which threatens all of Europe, and where the Prime Minister addresses Parliament in the afternoon, perhaps qualifies.

"Unfortunately, the atrophied democratic process at CBC is such that it clearly cannot adapt to the imperatives of the modern world.

"While the blood of free people is spilled, we must all do whatever we can, well, perhaps not CBC where the chairman and leader are incapable of exercising their discretion.

"For evil to succeed it only requires that good people do nothing."

Following the meeting, Mr Coiffait has sent an email to Cllr Mackey to address the issues raised, and a CBC spokesman said: “The council has no direct investments or contracts with any companies in Russia.

"It doesn't knowingly have any indirect investments either via contractors or invested funds.

"Company structures and investment portfolios are complex matters, and detailed enquiries would need to be sent to those organisations concerned.”

Asked about the meetings protocol, the spokesman replied: "Regarding notice of questions, a member may only ask a question at full council if:

at least seven clear working days notice in writing of the question is given to the monitoring officer;

or the question relates to urgent matters and the council chairman's consent is obtained and the content is given to the monitoring officer by 9am on the day of the meeting.

"The question was received after this deadline," added the spokesman. "The chairman chose not to use his discretion to accept it, as a detailed response could not be provided because of the late notice."