Friday, 2 March 2018

Parish Council - notes of meeting

Redevelopment of Nocton Village Hall

The notes of the Extra-ordinary Meeting from Tuesday, 13th Feb 2018, have now been published on the Parish Council website - here is a copy for your perusal. You may also like to read my blog of 10th Feb 2018 - to clarify why the Press and Public might have been excluded from this Parish Council meeting.

It may appear rather pedantic to pursue this matter in more detail, but I feel it is important to try and establish exactly why it was felt necessary to exclude members of the community from attending the discussion about the 'Redevelopment of Nocton Village Hall'.

I can accept that the Data Protection argument might have applied to Item (a) about '... the legal representative of a third party...' and possibly to Items (b) and (c) on financial grounds, but that's where it ends in my opinion.

The final Item (d), relates to a decision taken to form a 'Working Group', whose remit will be:

"to investigate and research any necessary aspects of the project in order to prepare information for the Parish Council..."

Q: Why exactly was this aspect deemed 'Confidential' - surely this Item could/should have been debated in the public domain before the public attendees were asked to leave the meeting?

N.B. I see the Nocton Village Hall Rebuilding Sub-Committee was actually established during public session, so this rather reinforces this viewpoint [Parish Council Minutes - 9th Feb 2016].

Rebuilding Sub-Committee v Working Group

Let's have a look at what these Minutes recorded:

Item 7. Nocton Village Hall Redevelopment - Next Steps

"The Parish Council considered a proposal to establish the Nocton Village Hall Rebuilding Sub-Committee. The Sub-Committee would oversee the day to day management of the Village Hall redevelopment project...

The Parish Council agreed:

(a) to establish a Nocton Village Hall Rebuilding Sub-Committee, and to appoint Cllrs Williams, Kaye and Jones (and the Parish Council Chair in an ex-officio capacity) to serve thereon. The first meeting of the Sub-Committee would be held in the Village Hall on Monday, 22 February, 2016 at 6.00 pm."

If you also read the Constitution and Terms of Reference for this Sub-Committee, you can see the extent of its remit. This is the opening paragraph in the Constitution:

"In order to ensure that all of the various issues associated with the project to rebuild the Village Hall can be dealt with in the most effective way possible, the Parish Council has established a small Sub-committee with the power to take decisions on such matters."

... and here are some of the Terms of Reference:

5. Ensuring that the necessary planning and other regulatory approvals are obtained.
6. Liaising as appropriate with the successful Contractor to ensure that the Project is delivered on time and to budget, including (i) resolving routine and other minor matters relating to the interpretation of the Project Brief; and (ii) dealing with any issue which may arise during the construction phase.

7. Investigating the availability of grants from outside bodies, making the necessary applications and advising the Parish Council thereon.
8. Preparing all financial and other information relating to the overall cost of the Project, including issues associated with VAT, and advising the Parish Council as appropriate.
9. Preparing, for the Parish Council’s approval, any funding application to the Department for Communities and Local Government, including proposals for the necessary public consultation.

What's the difference you might ask?

The Rebuilding Sub-Committee was set up to focus on the redevelopment of Nocton Village Hall and to make decisions without having to refer to full Council. It is a formal executive Committee of the Parish Council subject to strict rules, requiring a notice of Agenda for attendees and for Minutes to be taken and recorded. Members of the public are able to attend these meetings, unless excluded where confidential information is going to be discussed.

An informal Working Group is set up for a short-term purpose and is not subject to the strict rules that apply to formal council meetings - so they don't have to be held in public. However, a Working Group cannot make decisions on behalf of the council and must report progress to the Parish Council for decisions to be made, where these aspects will be recorded in the Minutes of the meeting.

Given the extent of remit to the Terms of Reference for the Sub-Committee, it is difficult to see why a more informal Working Group is now felt necessary.

There is no detail in the Notes of the Meeting dated 13th Feb 2018 to explain why this business would now be dealt with by an informal Working Group. Furthermore, as members of the public were excluded from this part of the meeting, it was impossible to hear the debate on how Council arrived at the decision.

I still hold the view expressed in my blog of 10th Feb 2018, that having a broad descriptive Agenda for a meeting e.g. Redevelopment of Nocton Village Hall, is not helpful. The public cannot see the individual topics to be discussed (or why they might be asked to be excluded from the meeting), nor will Parish Council members called to the meeting be aware of the specifics to be discussed.

It is therefore easy to see how a non-Confidential Item might arise inadvertently in private session and then be incorporated, when really the point should have been discussed in the public domain..

It just reinforces to me why the policy of excluding the public and press from public meetings should be used very sparingly and with a great deal of thought beforehand.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: All comments are moderated and will not be posted until screening has taken place. This is to ensure no foul language is posted online. Please leave your name if you are making a comment, even if it is just a first name - thank you.