CHURCH and union representatives on East Lothian Council’s education committee will no longer be able to vote on policy decisions after councillors stripped them of the right.

The decision to make unelected members non-voting was carried by 11 votes to 10, despite claims that the committee itself had only ever had to vote on one agenda item in a decade.

It came after the council carried out a public consultation on the issue which found that 84 per cent of respondents believed religious representatives should not be allowed a say, while more than half were also against trade union representatives being able to vote.

There are currently three religious representatives on the committee, representing the Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church, and one trade union representative, representing EIS.

Councillor Norman Hampshire, council leader, told the meeting he saw no reason to remove the voting rights from the unelected members.

He said: “East Lothian Council’s education committee has, since it was formed in 1996, had unelected members. There have been no disagreements between religious groups and trade unions.

“I think asking people to come along and take part in a committee but not allowing them to vote is wrong.”

And Councillor Colin McGinn added: “If there have been no issues and no problems, I see no reason to remove the votes.”

'Not answerable to the public'

However, Councillor Lee-Anne Menzies stressed that removing the vote would not remove the representatives, who would remain on the committee and still have a voice.

She said: “This is about the democratic process. The public can vote us in and vote us out, they cannot do that to the religious or union reps, they are not answerable to the public the way we are so should not have voting rights.”

Councillor Lachlan Bruce added: “I think the opinion of the public is quite clear in the consultation.

"If voters do not like something I do, they can kick me out at the next election. That is something they can’t do to the trade union or religious reps.”

However, Councillor Donna Collins expressed concern at losing their influence.

She said: “I wonder if this is the start of the removal of any representation or moral compass from the education committee. It sits uneasy with me.”

The committee voted by 11 to 10 to remove the voting rights of the unelected committee members with those for the removal councillors Liz Allan, Cher Cassini, Neil Gilbert, Lyn Jardine, Lee-Anne Menzies, Tom Trotter (all SNP), Lachlan Bruce, Jeremy Findlay, George McGuire (all Conservative), Shona McIntosh (Green) and Kenny McLeod (independent).

Those wanting to retain the votes were councillors Shamin Akhtar, Ruaridh Bennett, Fiona Dugdale, Andrew Forrest, Norman Hampshire, Colin McGinn, Carol McFarlane, John McMillan, Brooke Ritchie (all Labour) and Donna Collins (Conservative).