The ‘secretive’ talks on the future of the so-called ‘super council’ in Nottinghamshire will continue to be held behind closed doors, after a request for the media and public to be present was again denied.
But fresh leaks from the Conservative-run Nottinghamshire County Council have revealed what will be discussed at the meeting, and what was covered at the last private meeting.
A formal complaint about the council holding meetings in private has also been made to the Local Government Ombudsman.
The new leak comes just days after the initial leak revealed the seven options which are being looked into by the council.
The meeting on September 25 is discussing a plan to scrap all district and borough councils in Nottinghamshire and replace them with one, or two, ‘super councils’.
It is the second meeting on the subject, which aims to inform councillors of how the council’s plan is progressing.
The media asked to be allowed in to the meetings, however it was refused on both occasions.
After the first meeting, leaked documents revealed seven different options were being considered for the council.
Now, a second leak has revealed the council plans to write to every household in the county as part of a £270,000 consultation.
The council will also cold-call residents to ask their opinions, and is expecting around 1,500 responses to this.
The consultation will be split into two phases. The first will include three focus groups with randomly-selected residents. The council will also meet with district and borough councils, bordering councils and other ‘stakeholders’.
The leaked documents also appear to reveal two of the seven options have been rejected. These were both East/West splits which would have seen one council for East Nottinghamshire and another for West Nottinghamshire.
Councillor Alan Rhodes is the leader of the opposition Labour group on the council and represents the Worksop ward. He said: “The media aren’t always allowed into cross party working groups, but I think in this case it has to be an exception.
“This is easily the biggest decision the council has made for years and years.
“The Conservatives need to show that they have got nothing to hide, from the press or the public they represent.”
Councillor Jason Zadrozny is the leader of the Ashfield Independent Group, which opposes the super council, and has also called on the council to hold the meetings in public.
He said: “I’ve made it clear to the county’s chief executive and indeed the council leader that all meetings should be transparent and open to the public and media.
“Let’s face it – the way that this critical process is being handled is a dog’s dinner and the public are quite correct to be suspicious.
“In any consultation, it’s important that the public trust the process and it’s been a public relations disaster from start to finish.
“There are laws which govern a referendum on fairness, transparency and process. The way that this council is planning to go forward is reminiscent of a banana republic.
“I’ve no confidence that the consultation methods proposed by the county council will be fair. They are trying to railroad in the biggest changes to local government since 1974 and residents in places like Ashfield and Mansfield will receive a poorer service.
“I will be making these points in the ‘secretive’ meetings that this Conservative-led council is having.”
A spokesman for the county council confirmed that it was maintaining its position on not allowing media into the meeting.
The next meeting of the working group will be held on October 10. The media will again request attendance.
Can a council’s executive choose to meet in private?
All meetings of an executive including meetings of its committees or sub-committees must be open to the public, except in limited defined circumstances where the national rules require or allow the meeting to be closed to the public.
The rules require a meeting of an executive to be closed to the public in two specific circumstances:
- If the presence of the public is likely to result in the council breaching a legal obligation to third parties about the keeping of confidential information; or
- a lawful power is used to exclude the public in order to maintain orderly conduct or prevent misbehaviour at a meeting.
In addition, a meeting can also be closed to the public where the executive so decides (by passing a resolution of its members) because exempt information would otherwise be likely to be disclosed. It is open to the executive if it chooses to consider in public matters involving exempt information. There is no over-riding legal requirement forcing councils to discuss exempt information in private.
- More on the rules here