COUNCILLORS could ask cabinet members and heads of service formal questions on a myriad of issues outside of full council meetings.

On Monday, September 30, Powys County Council’s (PCC) democratic services committee backed the proposal for “formal questions at any other time.”

The proposal should be discussed at next week’s full council meeting on Thursday, October 10.

The idea follows a model working at Newport City Council.

Councillors could expect an answer in 10 days and the question and response would be uploaded to PCC’s website.

Committee chairman, Cllr Elwyn Vaughan (Plaid Cymru – Glantwymyn), explained that their support for the changes in July was discussed by a meeting of the group leaders.

They had questioned how it would work and the proposal had been brought back to committee for a further discussion.

The main issue was whether a question – should be directed to a member of the cabinet, or if it should be answered by a head of service or director?

Cllr Jackie Charlton, (Liberal Democrat – Llangattock), said: “Asking questions to portfolio holders is to hold them to account.”

Wyn Richards, head of democratic services, said: “If it’s a policy matter and how it’s interpreted it would go to a portfolio holder.”

Using potholes as an example, Mr Richards explained a question on potholes would an operational matter, and would need to be answered by the relevant head of service.

He added that a workshop would take place to explain the changes to all councillors.

If there was any confusion on who should answer a question, Mr Richards thought that  a discussion with the councillor asking that question could clarify whether it went to a cabinet member or head of service.

Mr Richards added: “You would not expect a portfolio holder to have the depth of knowledge that an officer would have on the day to day running of things.

“Policy, they (cabinet members) should certainly be on the ball.”

Cllr Linda Corfield (Independent- Forden) said that she thought councillors mostly did take operational concerns to staff.

“Only once have I gone to a portfolio holder and it was because I wasn’t getting any answers from anywhere else,” said Cllr Corfield.

Cllr Corfield was told that officers would also be expected to respond in 10 days.

If an answer was not received in that time a councillor could take a complaint up with the chief executive.

If passed “formal question at any other time”  will be trialled and reviewed after three months, with the option to extend for another three months .

This is seen as a measure to bring down the time of PCC’s full council meetings,

The average time for a full council meeting in Wales is two hours and 39 minutes.

And the last four full council meetings that PCC have had have been timed at three hours 44 minutes, two hours 54 minutes, four hours 52 (minutes) and six hours 19 (minutes).