Councils can do whatever they like. It’s easy because they set and manipulate
their own rules. The
debate about the proposed new ward boundaries would appear to be a case in point.
Bexley council’s General Purposes committee is responsible for electoral matters…
This gives a secretive council a problem. General Purposes Committee meetings are open to the public and the Local Government Act 1972 allows the press and public to be excluded only when specified matters are due to be discussed. They include…
Information relating to any individual.
Information which is likely to reveal the identity of an individual.
Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).
Information relating to any consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations, in connection with any labour relations.
Information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings.
Information which reveals that the authority proposes, (a) to give under any enactment a notice under or by virtue of which requirements are imposed on a person; or (b) to make an order or direction under any enactment.
Information relating to any action taken or to be taken in connection with the prevention, investigation or prosecution of crime.
Nothing there about electoral matters. Hence the big problem.
The council accepts that the amount of work involved is too much for the Committee…
So what to do? The obvious answer is to set up one of their Sub-Committees. Just because the main Committee doesn’t feel able to do a subject justice does not of course constitute a legally acceptable reason to exclude the public from proceedings, and indeed the council’s Constitution allows access to Sub-Committees, I know, I have occasionally attended them.
So what does a secretive council do to get around that? Easy. You call the Sub-Committee a Working Group. There is nothing in the Constitution about Working Groups. As Linda ‘Biffa’ Bailey famously said “I can do what I like”, and so can the council.