A community group in the Moorlands has questioned a council for holding meetings behind closed doors. We reported earlier this year that Leek Town Council has started to meet confidentially – with no public or press allowed to attend – with new meetings which they have entitled ‘Forward Planning Meetings.
A community group in the Moorlands has questioned a council for holding meetings behind closed doors.
We reported earlier this year that Leek Town Council has started to meet confidentially – with no public or press allowed to attend – with new meetings which they have entitled ‘Forward Planning Meetings.’
These meetings are separate to the public Full Town Council and various committee meetings that they do hold openly in the Council Chambers at Moorlands House in Leek.
Leek & District Civic Society has recently written to the council for clarification on the Leek Town Council Forward Planning Meetings, airing their concerns about transparency.
In a correspondence to Leek Town Council, Michael Stapleton, Honorary Secretary at the society, said: “It has come to our attention that an allegation is circulating locally that Leek Town Council intends to hold secret Forward Planning Meetings.
“Leek and District Civic Society would be most grateful if you could confirm that this allegation is (a) a complete fabrication or (b) basically true.
“If the latter applies, this is of considerable concern as ‘transparency’ and ‘openness’ are considered to be the watch words applying to Central and Local Government these days.”
Members of Leek Town Council briefly debated the correspondence from the civic society at their meeting last Tuesday (July 26).
Leek Town Clerk Denise Wheat was asked about the legalities of such meetings. She told councillors: “If it is a working group, discussions can be held but no decisions can be made – that’s my understanding.”
She told councillors that she had more reading up to do on investigating the matter.
Councillors agreed for Mrs Wheat to write back to the civic society.
After the meeting, Mrs Wheat sent the following reply to the civic society: “In response to the correspondence received from the Leek and District Civic Society on June 23, 2022, I apologise for the delay in responding with a statement but I considered it important that this was discussed by the Full Town Council at the next available meeting.
“Leek Town Council considered the question at a meeting of the council on July 26, 2022 and have asked me to issue a statement to you as follows:
“Leek Town Council have to abide by stringent rules to keep within the Code of Conduct and to follow Standing Orders for Full Town Council meetings and Committee meetings (A committee being elected at the Town Council Annual Meeting in May or formed at a subsequent meeting if a new).
“Delegated decisions can be made at Committee meetings for specific projects on that Committees Agenda. An Agenda must be produced, and these meetings must be open to members of the public to attend if they wish.
“Members of the public can also be elected to be members of Committees if they have a specialization or particular interest in that area. Minutes should be recorded and published on the Leek Town Council website.
“A Sub-committee meeting (or working group) can meet informally to discuss ideas or to look onsite at physical issues that the council may be responsible for.
“At these meetings it is advisable to take notes and prepare reports for any items to be brought to a Full Council meeting Agenda to be resolved or delegated to a committee.
“The Forward Planning sub-committee is in this category. It is a chance for new ideas to be looked at and moved forward or dismissed before being proposed as a Full Council Agenda item for debate and resolution.
“Leek Town Council base their structure of Governance on the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) rules.
“I would just like to clarify the structure of council meetings so that the members of the public can understand more how to get involved and be part of the committees if they wish.”
The Leek & Moorlands Echo has contacted the Leek & District Civic Society for comment about the response they have received from Leek Town Council.
Mr Stapleton said: “The Forward Planning Group is a Sub-Committee of the full Town Council and the wording ‘it is advisable to take notes’ should preferably read ‘it is mandatory to take notes.’
“The Sub-Committee has three or four members? Their deliberations should be recorded, made available for public inspection and incorporated in briefing papers submitted with the Agenda for the next full Council meeting.
“Would be interesting to know whether this happens.”
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