Confidentially you understand….

The Leveller® is used to coming across meetings of councils where press and public are cleared out. Often it is for a matter that doesn’t require a clear out, but it does involve pound notes. Or council property. In other words exactly the sort of thing press and public should be told about. And that councils like to keep hidden.

There is of course a proper time for commercial confidentiality. That is before a contract is signed. That does not mean the contract should be kept for ever secret after it has been signed.

These are old complaints and the abuse of confidentiality is very much alive and well in Somerset.

However at South Somerset District Council last night, things went one step further. The agenda gave plenty of advanced warning. It was clearly stated that press and public would be asked to leave so that they could discuss the following item: “The Monitoring Officer will provide Council with a verbal update on any urgent decisions taken by the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Chairman of Council and relevant officers since 7th May 2021.”

Press and public were dutifully removed at the end of the meeting. After a proper vote with proposers and seconders. This at least is a welcome improvement in the conduct of SSDC meetings. In fact it appears that council staff were also removed.

So obviously there was something of interest?

Apparently not. The Leveller® has learned that the confidential item was an all but pointless exercise. Councillors were told that a decision had been taken. It was an urgent decision. It had been taken urgently. And that was it.

No details was given as to the nature of the decision. Except, apparently, it was a staffing matter. But the nature of the item, the member of staff and all other detail was kept entirely under wraps.

So why were press and public excluded? If that was the extent of the item, there was in fact no valid reason to exclude them. Clearly if details had been given that might be different. If the staffing matter had not been brought to a conclusion, for instance. Then there could be valid reasons for not discussing the matter in front of press and public. But if no details were given, then the justification melts away.

Interestingly enough, The Leveller® too has been asking about a staffing matter. And as ever being blocked by the secretive Communications team. We asked among other things about policy. Specifically: “if a senior member of SSDC staff, or indeed a councillor, were found to have defrauded the authority, or to have breached their contract or been subject to disciplinary procedures, especially if it had cost the council money, is it your policy to prevent any information being given to the public?”

We asked that two days ago. So far we have had no response.

One comment

Leave a Reply