Agenda item

Councillor Ashley Baxter

This Council notes the continued and increasing use of ad hoc workshops and briefings to discuss Council policies, programmes and progress.

 

These meetings take place behind closed doors and, in many cases, they are called at short notice at the direction of Committee Chairs without reference to Committee members or other Councillors.

 

Therefore the Council recommends:

 

1.    Councillor briefings and workshops will be held in public unless the content is likely to be exempt under Para 3 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).

 

2.    Details of time, date, venue and subject area of workshops and briefings will be publicised to all Members, and the wider public, at least two working days before they take place.

 

3.    Action notes and recommendations from committee workshops will be presented to the next available formal meeting of the relevant committee.

Minutes:

Decision

 

The Council did not support the motion put by Councillor Baxter

 

Councillor Baxter proposed his motion:

 

This Council notes the continued and increasing use of ad hoc workshops and briefings to discuss Council policies, programmes and progress.

 

These meetings take place behind closed doors and, in many cases, they are called at short notice at the direction of Committee Chairs without reference to Committee members or other Councillors.

 

Therefore the Council recommends:

 

1.    Councillor briefings and workshops will be held in public unless the content is likely to be exempt under Para 3 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).

 

2.    Details of time, date, venue and subject area of workshops and briefings will be publicised to all Members, and the wider public, at least two working days before they take place.

 

3.    Action notes and recommendations from committee workshops will be presented to the next available formal meeting of the relevant committee.

 

Councillor Baxter referred to working group meetings where access to Members was restricted to a particular Committee and the way the action notes from those meetings were shared with the wider Member cohort and members of the public. While there was recognition that some of the information discussed at meetings and contained in action notes might contain information that was exempt and should therefore not be disclosed to the public, he indicated that it should be made clear that a meeting had taken place. Specific reference was made to a workshop held by the Shareholder Committee in January 2018, the action notes from which had only recently been published. Reference was also made to a future workshop meeting about wellbeing, which had been organised in association with the Communities and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee and to which all Members of the Council had been invited. He suggested that it was a topic that members of the public may also find of interest. Unless a meeting was to deal with exempt information, he felt that they should be open to the public and that the public should know that the meeting had taken place. The motion was seconded and the sentiment of ensuring public access to meetings of the Council was reiterated.

 

A number of Members spoke against the proposition. During debate some concerns raised by Members included distinguishing those meetings at which it might be appropriate for the public to attend and those where it would not, with specific reference being made to briefings for Committee Chairmen. Comments were also made about how the workshop structure facilitated full debate on complex issues where sensitive proposals could be fully considered without fallback for any individual Councillor. It was noted that any policy considered in a workshop session would still go to a meeting of an Overview and Scrutiny Committee for public debate and consideration.

 

Several Members referred to measures that had been put in place to improve openness and transparency by the administration that came into place in May 2017, including Members’ open questions at Council meetings, the introduction of Councillor briefings, publishing Cabinet papers as part of the Council agenda and changes to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee structure. Reference was also made to future plans to webcast meetings.

 

As the proposer of the motion, Councillor Baxter was given the opportunity to sum up. In doing so he referred to the distinctions between meetings of Group Leaders, briefings for Chairmen, meetings held in exempt session and workshops. He also spoke about Councillor briefings and making information available that could benefit everybody, saying in some instances that the subjects covered in the briefings duplicated information that was also being made available through the Council’s public meeting programme.

 

The motion was put to the vote and lost.