07 April 2017

The Unlawful Secrecy of Hayfield Parish Council Where Co-options Of New Councillors Are Concerned



Hayfield Parish Council office, together with area fraudulently claimed to be the local 'village green'


The national transparency movement does not seem to have reached Hayfield, a village in the High Peak.

Reports reach High Peak Transparency that Hayfield's Parish Council believes it is above the law.

The reason that statement can be made is that the parish council voted to remove the public from the recent council meeting at which a new parish councillor was to be selected.

The members of the public present were foolish enough to follow the unlawful order given to them by the Chair of the parish council meeting, and left the council meeting when told to do so.

A widely circulated email sent out by the parish clerk discussing this subject after the above meeting has now been forwarded to HPT by one of the Hayfield councillors.

The email makes interesting reading, including the glaring false statement / error / weaselly attempt at covering of backsides in the fourth paragraph:


Dear *****

Thanks for your email and your comments and concerns which have been noted.

Last night's meeting agreed to move the co-option into private simply because it was felt inappropriate to discuss the relevant attributes of candidates for co-option in public, and also because there was a precedent of Hayfield Parish Council holding previous recent co-options in private.

I am not in a position to comment on the opinions expressed on High Peak Transparency as it is simply a blog run by a private individual.  Our reference authority is DALC and I have had a long conversation with them this morning about the correct and appropriate procedures for co-option. 

DALC tell me that it is inappropriate for us to co-opt in private and this should not have happened last night.  However they are also telling me that although it is inappropriate it is not illegal and the decision made last night is valid and should stand.

We will now work with DALC to adopt an appropriate co-option procedure which we will have in place as soon as is practicable.  This new procedure will be followed in any future co-options.

I hope this addresses your concerns.

Keith Bevins
Clerk/RFO to Hayfield Parish Council


27 March 2017

Political Football Scores: A Point Of View From An Ollersett Resident




The following has been received as a comment to add to the bottom of the previous article 'Million Pound Cat Among the Nimby Pigeons'.

The name provided with the comment was 'Ollersett Resident'.  However, the text is pretty long for a 'comment box' and contains detailed comment and argument, so it's being given its own article rather just just being added as a comment box.

Editor's Note:  the headline to the previous article 'Million Pound Cat Among The Nimby Pigeons' was solely the creation of  HPT Editor.

We are happy to make it 100% clear that the headline was not the idea or suggestion of Colin Ramwell nor of anybody connected with the football club.

The headline to this article is likewise solely HPT's creation 

-----------------------------------

"Perhaps I might suggest that, if Mr Ramwell is so keen to: 'build bridges, not burn them' as his article suggest, a good place to start might be by not referring to local residents with valid concerns about a proposed major development on their doorstep as 'nimbie's' (especially in the title of the article). Again,, just a thought..

"Having attended most of the NMTC meetings where this proposal was discussed, including the meeting on the 13th February when the council voted unanimously by 6 to 0 (not '3.5' as Mr Ramwell suggests) to reject the proposal, I do feel able to offer some observations about that process. It’s also worth considering that AFC New Mills and Morbaine were in negotiation with DCC regarding the proposed development of Quarry Bank before the council threw it out. If this is such a good outcome for the town, perhaps someone could enlighten me as to why that initial proposal was rejected?

"I unashamedly mark myself as one of the 'pre-arranged' group of local residents who attended the meeting. That so many local residents felt compelled to go out of their way to attend a Town Hall meeting on a Monday night in February (after a 10 hour shift and straight after putting the kids to bed in my case) should tell you about the strength of feeling against this project and also, the significant annoyance that local residents had to find out about this proposal by word of mouth, rather than by any consultation from the football club. However, the tone and content of articles such as this are instructive of the amount of care and considerations that the football club have for local residents.

"During the meeting, NMTC quite rightly deduced that they were, in effect being asked to consider 2 proposals: the proposal to develop Ollersett Field, and the development of the Church Lane site (where Morbaine’s financial interest lies).

"Given that the former cannot proceed without the latter (there wouldn’t be any money), I find it more than slightly confusing that neither the football club of the developer have expanded on what is proposed for the Church Lane site. Is it a supermarket? is it housing? Is it both? If so, what are the implications to the rest of the town? These are the things that were considered at the meeting(s).

"£1,000,000 might sound like a lot of money on paper, however if it leads to a retail development that puts any number of local firms out of business, what are the financial effects on the town? The council rightly acknowledges that it has a duty to the 10,000 or so residents of the town, not a few hundred people directly associated with the local football club.

"Finally, if we can address myth that this proposal will somehow improve community sports facilities in the area. The definition of a ‘community’ resource is one which is freely available for use by the community. We have one of those; it’s called Ollersett Field (regularly and enthusiastically used by the local community, despite some comments on here). What this proposal does, is to transfer that community facility into private hands and make it available to them at certain times (subject to availability) on a hire basis for the private financial gain of the football club. This was confirmed to me when I spoke with Club Design to get more information (in the absence of any from the football club). I would therefore be grateful if you could make this distinction in future comment.

"Those of us who have followed this project for several months (and bothered to actually turn up and discuss it at meetings) were delighted that the council had the foresight to see through the private financial gains of a local sports clubs and a private developer and look at the wider interests of the townspeople of New Mills, the vast, vast majority of which have no interest whatsoever in the local football club.

A resident of Watburn Rd, New Mills."



23 March 2017

Million Pound Cat Among The Nimby Pigeons





Note:  the headline to this article 'Million Pound Cat Among The Nimby Pigeons' is solely the creation of  HPT Editor.

We are happy to make it 100% clear that the headline was not the idea or suggestion of Colin Ramwell nor of anybody connected with the football club.

---------------------------

The following communication has been received by email from Colin Ramwell at 8:43 on 22 March 2017, and it is printed here verbatim:

"Hello again HPT community: Let’s get something straight about this myth of the peppercorn rent and financial discussions.

"As I have previously stated I truly believe we have not been properly heard, neither the clubs or developer has ever been asked to formally put forward financial terms for the proposal. What I would expect is that at least a decision would be looked at and appraised by professional agents/solicitors before it was put to a full council for a decision, not on the basis of two farcical meetings the EGM (which only 3.5 Cllrs bothered to turn up for) and the pre-organised assembly of some local Ollersett people with no personal invite to the clubs or developer that a decision would be made that evening (Feb 13th meeting)

"The reality of the situation was that at no time have we put any financial offer to NMTC. The idea always was and always has been for the Council to indicate a willingness to discuss the proposal seriously when we would have then discussed detailed terms with the councils legal people.

"I can reveal the offer the developer would be prepared to make to the council is the sum of £1,000,000.00 as a premium to enter a long term ground lease and in addition the club would then pay an annual rent of £800.00. (perhaps this is where the peppercorn rent thing came from) – however £1 million is hardly peppercorn

"I have spoken with the developer and he is happy for me to reveal this proposal, the council have this offer in writing.

"The responsibility for the maintenance of the facility would totally lie with the club, also the club would guarantee the use of the facility to the Junior FC and for wider community to use as previously discussed.

"The club would employ someone to run this facility.

"To all other anonymous HPT contributors who continue to say the club is in “massive debt” all are very welcome to come a see me or any other AFC committee members and take a look at our accounts to dispel this myth. It’s true the club does run to a very rigid budget, like very many similar clubs and societies across the UK money is tight.

"As I say come and meet me at the club, I would be delighted to talk and discuss - we want to build bridges not burn them.

"I would ask the council to reconsider and have a public consultation – where everyone will be properly heard and if the decision remains the same then so be it, we all move on - I don’t mind losing so long as the game is played fairly.

From Colin Ramwell – Chair NM Juniors and Vice Chair NM AFC"

17 March 2017

Speech to March 2017 New Mills town council meeting by Colin Ramwell


Church Lane Pitch


Here is the speech that Colin Ramwell gave in the public speaking section before the New Mills town council meeting on 13 March 2017:


"At no time did Morbaine formally present any financial proposals to the Council so talk of peppercorn rents only were misleading.  A fair rent would have been proposed and with an understanding that the Council was seriously considering the offer a full financial plan would have been submitted.

"We were not treated reasonably especially at the last meeting.  Considering the importance of the proposal we were given no advanced personal notice that we were on the agenda that night nor that any “final” decision might be made.

"On the other hand the room was surprisingly full of objectors who, as neighbours to the files were biased in their views.

"Much emphasis seemed to have been put on the fact that this was all about the developer and his profit.  The benefits to the Community, the Clubs and the School of the new facilities was hardly considered.

"Since the meeting the Club has received much support from the Community disappointed at the decision made by the Council.

"Ironically the Council has a duty to look after the Field for the Community but is clearly not fulfilling this duty and this proposal would have taken this liability from them.

"We need to be re-heard and it would help to meet a Council representative say a Solicitor to explain in depth the whole proposal.

"The peppercorn rent is a myth.  No such offer was made.  Market rates would apply."

--------------------------------

The above are Colin Ramwell's words, published here so that a wider audience can see them.

There were several excellent and impassioned speeches from other people at the council meeting on the same subject of the urgent need for good football facilities for the junior, female, and wanabe footy players of the town.

If anyone wants to send in the text of their speech it will be published verbatim here, to give it wider publicity than just the town hall council chamber.

HPT


14 March 2017

December 2016 Co-option Policy Resolution Invalid. Plus, Method of Voting On Co-options





Authoritative NALC formal advice letter

A NALC (the National Association of Local Councils) formal advice letter has been received by New Mills Town Council on the subject of a "co-option policy" that was sprung without notice on the December 2016 town council meeting.

HPT obtained a copy of the advice letter under the Freedom of Information Act.  Here is the key sentence, which comes at the end of the letter written by a NALC solicitor:

"Accordingly, I think that the co-option resolution is invalid.  A new motion will be needed to adopt the co-option policy."


The public interest:  council co-options must be done in public

This December 2016 co-option policy - which now looks like it has failed - is the one that contains two major no-nos for supporters of transparency in local government:

Firstly, it proposed that co-options of new councillors should be done is secret, i.e. in Part 2 of a council meeting with the public excluded from the meeting.

Readers of recent articles on HPT on this subject will know why any such proposal would be unlawful.

The public has the legal right to be present at all meetings of councils. The very limited circumstances in which a council can exclude the public for a specific agenda item in a meeting do not include co-opting of new members onto the council.


The law:  method of voting during council meetings

Secondly, and this bad idea has not yet been aired or properly publicised, the December 2016 co-option policy proposed that voting by councillors for co-options should be by secret ballot.

Here is why that notion would raise major problems if it were attempted:

As always, let us go back to first principles: What does the law say on this subject?  The method of voting in council meetings is specified by law.  Paragraph 13 of Schedule 12 of the local Government Act 1972:

13 (1)  Unless otherwise provided by council's standing orders the manner of voting at meetings of a parish council shall be by a show of hands.

13 (2)  On the requisition of any member of the council the voting on any question shall be recorded so as to show whether each member present and voting gave his vote for or against the question. 

So that settles it: this mad, anti-transparent idea in the December 2016 co-option policy of a secret ballot manner of voting would be unlawful.

Even if standing orders attempted to subvert the law that governs the manner of voting in council meetings, the legal right of all councillors to demand a named vote at any time sees off the 'secret ballot' idea.


The Seven Principles of Public Life as they apply to the method of voting used during council meetings

Councillors' codes of conduct, based on the Nolan Principles, would also directly conflict with any scheme purporting to let councillors make any council decision by secret ballot.

The two Principles concerned with this are:

4 - Accountability 

Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this. 

5 - Openness 

Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so. 

27 February 2017

The view from New Mills Football Club's Chairman, following recent town council decision about Ollersett proposals


The following is the verbatim text of a recent Buxton Advertiser article giving the point of view of New Mills FC chairman Ray Coverley on New Mills town council's recent decision re Ollersett proposals:




New Mills FC left stunned as council veto Ollersett Fields redevelopment


New Mills FC chairman Ray Coverley has expressed his dismay and frustration at the town council’s decision to veto a planned redevelopment of Ollersett Fields.

A new and exciting facility had been proposed for the site, which included 3G pitches and facilities for not only New Mills FC to use but also junior and girls teams from across the town. However, despite the pitches at Ollersett Fields currently being in a poor condition, New Mills Town Council decided at a meeting last week to turn down the proposals.

Coverley said: “The council say that the new facilities will have no real benefit to the community, only to New Mills FC itself, which is staggering really given it’s an entirely community-based proposal and designed to benefit everyone. “We’ve been putting the plans together for a long time now with developers Morbaine and this would have cost the council nothing given Morbaine would have organised all of the public consultations and so on, but we’ve not even been allowed to get to that stage.

“It’s been a very sudden end to quite a drawn out process and we’re desperately disappointed, as are our junior coaches and players as they currently don’t have anywhere suitable to play regularly. “It’s a huge setback. I could understand if consultations had taken place and there were suitable enough objections to it all, but it has been nipped in the bud before the plans had been made fully public.”

Morbaine had also put accompanying plans in place to develop the playing fields at Quarry Road, currently used by school teams but which are also in a poor condition.

Coverley added: “Everything we had planned was with a view to improving current facilities to provide a fantastic community resource and yet the council have, for some reason, not seen that and dismissed it out of hand.

“Everything was being financed and literally the only thing the council had to do was give us the OK to do it. We’ve had widespread support from across the town for what we wanted to do. “I’ve been involved with this club for 30 years and wanted this development to be my legacy so I’m very frustrated at the way this has happened.

“Both sites are going to rack and ruin and it’s such a huge waste when you consider both what could be put in place instead and just how many people will benefit. I can’t understand how the council believe the community won’t reap the rewards."



MARK DUFFY (TWITTER - @DUFFERSSPORT) 16:09Wednesday 22 February 2017

Read the article in situ at: http://www.buxtonadvertiser.co.uk/sport/football/new-mills-fc-left-stunned-as-council-veto-ollersett-fields-redevelopment-1-8404173



Ollersett Fields
Ollersett  Field- "Going to rack and ruin" - Ray Coverley

24 February 2017

New Sporting Facilities Needed In New Mills: Contribution To The Debate From New Mills Juniors Football

A 6-1 win over Tintwistle


The following has been received from Colin Ramwell, who is connected with New Mills Juniors football.  It was received as a 'comment' below the previous article but is detailed enough to merit its standalone article as follows:


Hello HPT, I thought it may be worthwhile sending you the reasons New Mills Juniors (a separate club to New Mills AFC) are keen to back the AFC proposal for this new facility

New Mills Juniors are extremely disappointed that the council didn't even vote for a public consultation, we accept that some local residents to the site will have reservations but the much wider community of New Mills have again not been taken into consideration or indeed had an opportunity to have their say in what would be the biggest sporting facility the town has had since the building of the leisure centre in the 1970's.

I attended the council EGM for this project back in early November, in attendance where the junior and AFC football clubs along with the developer and ground design company - however only 3 councillors bothered to turn up! - I genuinely believe we have not been listened to

The facility would not just be for football, I know of interest from hockey and lacrosse teams, games not currently played in the area.

Also regarding the peppercorn rent, my understanding was to either buy the land outright (more than a few peppercorns I would imagine into the council coffers) or agree a long term lease at a market value rate.

I don't do anonymous

Thanks

Colin Ramwell - Chair New Mills Juniors


--------------------------------------


New Mills Juniors – fully behind a new community sports 3G facility in New Mills.

New Mills Juniors was established over 40 years ago and is a well-known FA standard charted junior football club in the High Peak and South Manchester area – we accommodate football for the age groups U8’s through to U18’s.

• We have around 170 FA registered players, we are the largest (playing) sporting club in the area, but our facilities are very poor.

• We only have 2 pitches for 10 teams to play football on. The REC on Wirksmoor Rd and the proposed site of the new 3G facility at Ollersett Fields on Watburn Rd.

• The REC on Wirkmoor Rd is OK albeit in need of some drainage and resurfacing work in parts.

• The Ollersett fields site is in the main not fit for purpose as it is nearly always waterlogged as it has no working drainage – I estimate we have played less than 10 games ONLY on Ollersett over the last 2 seasons – from October to March last year we play NO games on the pitch – The New Mills council parks team will collaborate this as they can’t get their equipment onto the pitch as the mower sinks in the mud.

•  For our teams on Ollersett, we tend to have to play many of our home games away due to the pitch being unfit - lots of unnecessary travel for our players and parents.

• Our U8’s and 9‘s teams have to play all their games in Glossop (3G pitch) due to lack of a pitch to play on in New Mills, a round trip for players and parent of around 20 miles each and every weekend.

• We have had in the past a successful girls team but we have no changing facilities so we are reluctant to set another one up due to this fact – we also would not meet the standard charter FA criteria for a girl’s football team.

• We cannot grow as a club and offer more children to play football due to the lack of facilities.

• We lose New Mills players to other towns due to the poor facilities New Mills has – Whaley Bridge, Glossop, High Lane etc. all have 3G facilities

New Mills Juniors represents the town in the Metro League playing teams from all around South Manchester – from Macclesfield through Stockport to Glossop and Hyde most towns have better facilities for their children to play than we have in New Mills – our footballing facilities are a very poor advert for the town to visitors.

New Mills Juniors are fully behind working with New Mills AFC. Both clubs have forged strong links together over the last few years and are in total agreement to move forward with a Community Footballing/Educational/Multisport facility the town can be proud of.



Editor's Note for non-football types: '3G' means Third Generation artificial pitch.  Goodbye to the burnt knees and unpredictable ball-bounce of the first generation of artificial pitches!

23 February 2017

New Mills Town Council turns down generous offer of one peppercorn in return for about four acres of land


Fig 1: Some peppercorns (actual size)


The following has been received as a reader's comment, from 'Watburn Road Resident'.  It deserves a stand-alone article, so that comments on this subject can all be all kept together rather than be scattered under other unrelated articles:


"Last Monday New Mills Town Council spent a lot of time discussing whether to lease Ollersett Fields at a peppercorn rent to allow New mills Football club to develop on the site financed by a property company on a long lease.

"Another article supplied by the club is in the paper this week. What is not mentioned is that this development will lead to the present site in Church Lane being developed into housing or retail in an overcrowded area already.

"The answers from the property company were unclear and lacked details.

"All councillors expressed concern and voted unanimously to keep the status quo.

"The football club has put their spin on this.For once the council considered all the issues and accepted their responsibility to the whole community and surrounding properties and the discussion was transparent and free from acrimony."




If either the football club or Morbain would like to send in their point of view on this matter either in Microsoft Word or as an email then it will be published verbatim on HPT.  Send to:  highpeaktransparency@btconnect.com

24 January 2017

The Public Interest: new council members must not be co-opted in secret




Introduction

This article concerns future co-options of new members to New Mills Town Council.

Until a new ‘Co-options Policy’ document was presented without prior notice to NMTC’s December 2016 meeting, this council has always selected all new co-opted members in the open.

However, a section of the December document introduces the risk New Mills town council could attempt to co-opt new council members ‘in secret’.

The public interest requires all such council co-option decisions to be made in the open.


Background Explainer

For newer HPT readers, the following is a summary of the law of council meetings and the status of co-option decisions in those meetings:

Format of council meetings: Part One and Part Two

The law requires that meetings of councils must be open to the public.*

There is a tiny number of types of council business where the public may be excluded during the meeting.

Council meetings are therefore divided into two parts.  There is a Part One, where the public is present.  The vast majority of council business in meetings is transacted in Part One.

Sometimes there is a Part Two of the meeting.  This is the section of the meeting from which the public is excluded.

If a council wants to exclude the public from any agenda item in a council meeting then it must pass (in public) a resolution giving a legally valid reason for it proposing to exclude the public from the meeting.

That resolution must specify the agenda item(s) from which the council proposes to exclude the public.

Becoming a member of a town or parish council: election and co-option

Local elections to councils happen every four years.  When a vacancy on a council arises between elections, the vacancy must be advertised in the council area.  This is to elect a replacement council member for the ward that has the vacancy.

If the council concerned is a town or parish council (the local government tier below Borough Council) then the advertisement specifies that, if there are not at least ten local electors who require a by-election to be held, the council may itself co-opt a new member to fill the vacancy.  This is called a ‘casual vacancy’.

Co-option is the cheaper method of filling a casual vacancy but is not appropriate in every case.


The issue

Proposed new ‘Co-options Policy’ of New Mills Town Council – December 2016 meeting

A new ‘Co-option Policy’ document was presented to the 12 December 2016 New Mills Town Council meeting by Cllr Tony Ashton.

No advance sight of this proposed policy change was given to the councillors before the meeting at which they were asked to vote on it.  That itself would be unlawful if it were allowed to stand, but is not the subject of this article.

The serious problem created by this December document is that, regarding future co-options of new members to the council, it states:

“The council may only discuss each candidate’s suitability for the role when he/she and members of the public are not present, i.e. as a part 2 item.” **

Intuitively, most people will know that cannot be right.  And all people interested in transparency in public life will know that, on this subject, any such attempted secrecy is manifestly not right.

All local councils are public bodies.  Council co-options are to a public body.  A public body’s meetings are held in public.

Any person applying for co-option knows full well that they are applying for a public position on a public body.  They are therefore expecting public scrutiny.

If they were not prepared to accept public scrutiny then they would not be interested in standing for public office, i.e. being a local councillor.


The December 2016 ‘Co-options Policy’ document

Regarding co-option of new members to a council, even the document itself recognises the importance of transparency in co-options to a local council.  Its second sentence is:

“It is especially important that the (co-option) arrangements are seen as open and fair.”

But in direct contradiction to this, the document then states:

“The council may only discuss each candidate’s suitability for the role when he/she and members of the public are not present, i.e. as a part 2 item.” **

Given that the role referred to is co-option to a public body, this is a bizarre claim.  What is the authority for such a claim, if any?

Conveniently for the enemies of transparency, the December ‘Co-options Policy’ document avoids referring to the actual law that governs these issues.  Nor does the document reveal the identity of its author.

The document cannot refer to the relevant laws.  Because if it did then everybody would see that a town or parish council would be breaking the law if it managed to exclude the public from a co-option agenda item in one of its meetings.

Reason: co-option of new members to a council are self-evidently a matter of public interest.


The Dimensions Of This Issue

The areas of concern to NMTC if it were now to attempt moving co-option decisions to Part Two of its meetings are as follows:

The council’s reputation;  the government’s wishes;  and the law of council meetings.

The reputation of the council

Since the dark days before the dramatic clear-out in the local elections of May 2007, New Mills Town Council has made good strides in improving its transparency performance.

But now it appears that one particular councillor – Cllr Tony Ashton - may be trying to backslide to earlier bad habits of unlawful council secrecy, and drag New Mills town council back down there with him.  What will the other councillors decide on this issue?

The government’s wishes regarding transparency in local government

The government’s policy on transparency in meetings of local councils was published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in June 2014.  Title: ‘Open and accountable local government: a guide for the press and public on attending and reporting meetings of local government’

The section concerning town and parish councils is Part 4: ‘Access to meetings and documents of parish and town councils’. Here are the extracts relevant to this issue:

“As a member of the public, you have the right to attend the annual parish and town meeting, as well as the meetings of parish and town councils…

“Notice of the meeting specifying the business to be discussed must be placed in a central conspicuous place within the parish or area at least 3 clear days (excluding Sundays and Bank Holidays etc – HPT Ed) before the meeting.  These councils are also encouraged to place copies of the agenda, meeting papers and notice of meetings at offices and on their website, if they are in possession of these facilities.

“Can a parish or town council… choose to meet in private?

“All meetings of these councils must be open to the public, except in limited defined circumstances. These councils can only decide, by resolution, to meet in private when discussing confidential business or for other special reasons where publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest.

“What is confidential information and publicity prejudicial to the public interest?

“We expect this to cover matters such as discussing the conduct of employees, negotiations of contracts or terms of tender and the early stages of a legal dispute.”

Note:  co-option of new council members is NOT on the government’s list of the limited matters for which a council may exclude the public from its meetings.


Other key statements about transparency in local government

Also in direct conflict with the ‘secret’ aspect of this NMTC proposed change in co-options policy are the following:

Arnold-Baker

The town and parish council ‘bible’ – Arnold-Baker on Local Council Administration*** - says the following about councils trying to exclude the public from meetings:

“In few cases is there any good reason for excluding the press or the public from meetings, and in still fewer is it necessary to impose secrecy upon the members.”

The detailed passage is as follows:

“A meeting of a council must be open to the public and the press. They can be excluded only by a resolution if publicity would prejudice the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business or for some other reason stated in the resolution and arising out of the business to be transacted.  The power to exclude* is not exercisable generally but only for a particular occasion.”

“In few cases is there any good reason for excluding the press or the public from meetings, and in still fewer is it necessary to impose secrecy upon the members.  As a rule, however, it is desirable to treat the discussion of the following types of business as confidential:

- engagement, terms of service, conduct and dismissal of employees;
- terms of tenders, and proposals and counter-proposals in negotiations for contracts;
- preparations of cases in legal proceedings; and
- the early stages of any dispute.”

Needless to say, in Arnold-Baker on Local Council Administration, co-options of new members onto the council are not on the list of business that ‘it would be wise to treat as confidential’.


NMTC’s December Co-options policy document

Even the December ‘Co-options Policy’ document itself states, in only its second sentence:

“It is especially important that the (co-option) arrangements are seen as open and fair.”


The law of council meetings – the public’s right to attend

The laws relevant to this subject of public rights of access to its council meetings are easily accessible on the official Statute Law Database of the United Kingdom at www.legislation.gov.uk

Here they are:

Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960

(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, any meeting of a body exercising public functions, being a body to which this Act applies, shall be open to the public.

 (2) A body may, by resolution, exclude the public from a meeting (whether during the whole or part of the proceedings) whenever publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted or for other special reasons stated in the resolution and arising from the nature of that business or of the proceedings; and where such a resolution is passed, this Act shall not require the meeting to be open to the public during proceedings to which the resolution applies.

It is clear from Section 1 that the public have the right to attend all New Mills town council meetings.

Section 2 specifies those limited subjects when the public can be excluded from the meeting.  Co-options of new members of a council - a public body - clearly do not fall under these exceptions.

Co-options are evidently a) not confidential; and b) a matter of public interest.


Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972

Of course, some HPT readers will now be asking: “But what about Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972?  Surely that says an individual’s information is exempt from being revealed to the public by a council?”

Such a misreading of Schedule 12A is probably the original cause of the attempt at co-option secrecy in the December proposed co-option policy document.  If so, the anonymous person who wrote that document has not read the law properly.

Schedule 12A concerns the public’s right of access to information held by a council.  The relevant parts are as follows:

Clauses 1, 2 and 3 of Schedule 12A indicate that in general a council should not disclose information to the public relating to an individual; or likely to reveal the identity of an individual; or relating to an individual’s financial or business affairs.

However, this ban on revealing an individual’s information is conditional, not absolute.

It is specified to be conditional on the public interest of the particular matter being discussed. The public interest in knowing the identity, information, interview performance etc of all co-option candidates is therefore protected by Schedule 12A's Clause 10:

10.  “Information which—
(a) falls within any of paragraphs 1 to 7 above; and
(b) is not prevented from being exempt by virtue of paragraph 8 or 9 above,
is exempt information if and so long, as in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.”

There is a strong public interest in co-options, and in co-options being as open and transparent as possible.

In all the circumstances of this case - which concerns co-options to a public body - the public interest in disclosing the relevant information about the co-option candidates outweighs the public interest in maintaining the exemption, i.e. the attempt at secrecy proposed in the December 2016 NMTC ‘Co-options Policy’ document.


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References:

* Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960

** Numbered paragraph 4 in the December ‘Co-options Policy’ document

*** Ninth Edition, paragraph 7.6