OPPOSITION councillors at Wokingham Borough Council have hit back at claims that they are purposefully wasting time during council meetings by asking long questions.

The leader of the council, Charlotte Haitham Taylor, issued a statement last week calling on members to keep questions brief during meetings, and warned opposition councillors that questions including long statements are in breach of the council's rules.

The comments came following the Annual Council meeting on May 24 where long supplementary questions were asked by Liberal Democrat, Independent and Labour councillors, despite the meeting's chairman, Cllr John Kaiser, called for questions to be kept short.

Cllr Haitham Taylor said: “Councillors have been repeatedly warned about asking supplementary questions that are too long.

“Both at Full Council meetings, chaired by the Mayor, and Executive meetings chaired by me, councillors been reminded that we have a clear set of rules about this. The Council’s constitution says that supplementary questions should not be long statements. When councillors ask questions that are far too long, other people miss out on the chance to challenge Executive Members.

“This is the second Council meeting in a row where opposition questions that are too long have meant that other important pieces of business have dropped off. There are other opportunities to ask questions of executive members, including by email, on the phone, or face-to-face at any time. Executive members are always open to questions, it does not just have to happen at formal meetings.

“I will be writing to all councillors, together with the Mayor, to remind them of the Council’s rules and the importance of short, succinct questions to ensure fairness for their colleagues.”

Independent councillor Gary Cowan, who represents Arborfield, slammed what he called the Conservatives' 'deceitful tactics' during meetings.

Cllr Cowan said: "The hypocrisy of this Conservative administration knows no bounds. If you look back at many previous council meetings when there are difficult opposition motions on the agenda the Conservatives use the most deceitful delaying tactics by getting their Leader and all their Executive Members to drag out the proceedings.

"This is followed on by submitted questions with supplementary questions which are also dragged out. Finally lots of Conservative member questions are used to run out even more time. Then to rub it in, when the mayor asks if members want to extend the meeting they vote it down.

"It is a clear, orchestrated Conservative strategy, skilfully manufactured in private group meetings and then rolled out on what they think is an unsuspecting public. So much for democracy."

Leader of the Wokingham Liberal Democrats, Cllr Lindsay Ferris, who represents Twyford, said: "I believe the long answers from the Executive members is a deliberate attempt to cut down the number of questions put to them.

"I believe the real problem was that it was the first time the Mayor had run a council meeting and was not quite prepared to handle the situation. He did ask for the questions to be shortened.

"I have also been advised that the maximum length for a response to a question is two minutes. The real problem is that we rarely get a proper answer to any of the questions raised, irrespective of their length.

"I have also formally asked for members questions to be extended to 30 mins."