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Seven years since Moray Council had a 'valid' petition

By Hazel Lawson Local Democracy Reporter

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Seagulls on the roof at Speyside High School, closure of public toilets in Tomintoul and speeding motorists in Elgin all have something in common.

A section of Moray folk have felt strongly enough to petition Moray Council to ask for something to be done about all of these issues.

However, in each case, their petitions were ruled invalid.

And it doesn't stop there.

New rules adopted by the local authority in 2013 were supposed to encourage people to lodge petitions.

Since then 29 have been submitted.

But only three of them have been considered valid – the last time being almost seven years ago.

Critics say the system isn't working because its rules are not being properly communicated to the public.

Many petitions have been ruled invalid because they require the full names and addresses – including postcodes – of at least 50 people, who must be on the electoral register in Moray.

In addition, contact details must be included for the lead petitioner.

Former councillor Barry Jarvis is disappointed with how the petition system is working.
Former councillor Barry Jarvis is disappointed with how the petition system is working.

Barry Jarvis, a former Elgin North councillor, was instrumental in getting the council to bring in its petitions policy.

He said: "Both Labour and the SNP made a commitment in their manifesto for the 2012 local government elections to bring in a proper petitions process.

"The aim was to encourage people to engage and participate in the democratic process.

"It’s disappointing that more folk have not engaged with it.

"If it looks like a bit of a hassle then folk are not going to jump through hoops to do it.

"The council’s petitions process shouldn’t be too complex that it stops folk taking part.

"And it’s about awareness. Communities need to know about it and how to use it properly."

Of the sole three petitions to be considered valid since 2013, one was asking for a by-law to prevent goose and duck shooting at the Findhorn Bay nature reserve.

Another was for the erection of a safety barrier on the Dufftown to Keith Road.

The third was for the council to replace windows at a house in Brodie Avenue, Buckie.

No by-law has been introduced at Findhorn, however a permit system has been introduced for wildfowlers.

Meanwhile, the safety barrier was not considered necessary by councillors.

However the windows were eventually replaced.

The last petition received and refused by the local authority was a request that they tell the Faroe Islands Government that the people of Moray are against killing whales and dolphins.

That was submitted two years ago.

Since then the council has introduced an e-petition option that allows people to submit them online.

But that has yet to be used.

A separate process was introduced earlier this year so children can submit petitions.

A council spokesperson highlighted several ways the authority interacts with the public.

They included budget and planning consultations, councillors attending community meetings and elected members being able to raise issues with officers or at committees.

In addition, there are Freedom of Information requests, the complaints procedure plus the council's presence on social media.

The spokesperson said: "These methods all give the public a voice and influence the council decisions and policies which are determined in council meetings.

"The petitions process is a safety net which allows people to raise an issue formally through a council meeting.

"It’s clearly set out on our website and councillors are aware that it is there."

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