PUBLIC questions submitted to Barnsley Council will only be heard within a 30-minute timeframe after a bid to prolong the amount of time allocated failed.

Liberal Democrat councillors had raised a motion asking that time be set aside to take questions from residents at the start of major ‘full council’ meetings.

New rules imposed in May means that there is now a cut-off point after 30 minutes, and only eight out of 17 questions were answered.

An amendment that written submissions should instead be taken with answers published on the council’s website, where they will remain for three months, was passed.

Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said that it was a ‘more effective’ way of allowing the answers to reach a wider audience, with about 240,000 people accessing the website over the period when each answer will be published, compared to the handful of people who watch the meetings through a webcasting service.

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Coun Hannah Kitching said: “Sadly the ruling Labour group don’t enjoy challenge or scrutiny, and so we were not surprised when this time limit was pushed through last time.

“Add to that some planted questions from Labour group members - a Labour member hasn’t asked a question at full council for countless years - and a good dose of filibustering by the cabinet member for core services and it was inevitable that time would run out.

“It seems to me that the leader is running scared, absolutely terrified of his cabinet members being challenged in a public meeting.

“With both the Conservatives and Barnsley Independent Group backing the ruling Labour group at every single vote, it is clear that only the Liberal Democrats are willing and able to provide that opposition. We will not be silenced.”

Coun Houghton added: “This council is always happy to take questions from the public. We don’t think they need to wait for a council meeting to get an answer.

“The reason it didn’t work was because it was used by political activists to promote themselves and the public were squeezed out.

“We will take questions in a written form, respond in written form and put them on the council website for three months. That is a much better way to do it.”