Councillors fear they will be barred from meetings under tightening of rules at Norfolk County Council
PUBLISHED: 09:30 07 March 2019 | UPDATED: 10:33 07 March 2019
Opposition councillors at Norfolk County Council have criticised a tightening of rules which would bar some councillors from parts of meetings and could stop them seeing council documents.
Councillors have been given fresh legal advice that, where a decision is made to exclude the press and public from a meeting - such as when confidential matters are discussed - councillors not on the committee will also have to leave.
And the head of democratic services can withhold documents from councillors containing exempt information, such as relating to individuals or the terms of a proposed contract.
But Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said it risked another “incinerator fiasco”. The decision to award a contract for the Saddlebow burner was made by the Conservative cabinet in 2011, but was overturned by full council in 2014, leaving a £30m plus bill.
Mr Roper said: “The council is spending vast amounts of public money and the public and the councillors that they elected, whatever their political colour, have every right to understand what that money is being spent on. The public interest must be paramount.”
Labour group leader Steve Morphew, said: “We’ll be watching this closely as we instinctively feel uncomfortable with moves like this. If it is an attempt to hide things that should be in public we’ll be the first to cry foul.”
But Andrew Proctor, leader of the Conservative-controlled council, said the exclusion of press and public, and, therefore councillors not on the committee, only happens in “exceptional circumstances” and after a public interest test.
He said: “The council’s newly appointed chief legal officer, having attended a few meetings, felt the need to write to members to clarify the legal position that councillors who are not members of a committee have no right to remain in the meeting when the press and public are excluded and this is the advice that the council will be following from now on.”
His administration intends to return to a cabinet system of governance from May and he said: “This reminder to councillors of all parties is just the council highlighting that it wishes to maintain stronger governance and make it more transparent whilst remaining as committed as ever to having and transacting as much council business as possible in the public domain.”