Anger over privacy of St Albans council meetings

LOCAL residents are barred from attending over 40 per cent of district council meetings – a finding that has been criticised by a councillor.

At last week’s full St Albans district council meeting, Cllr Simon Grover asked which committees, working parties and task and finish groups were not open to the public.

A schedule shows that 16 out of 37 of those types of meetings are held behind closed doors. Fifty-seven per cent are open to the public.

The portfolio holder for community engagement Cllr Beric Read said that council committees were open to the public unless information reported was confidential and required by statute to be discussed behind closed doors.

He added: “Working parties are more often held in private because they are engaged in preliminary research and consideration of options or proposals.”

Cllr Read said information was later put into the public domain when recommendations were reported to the relevant portfolio holder or committee for debate and decisions made at open meetings.

He went on: “Scrutiny task and finish groups are usually by invitation only to relevant witnesses, experts and interested parties.

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Their recommendations are then reported for debate at public meetings of the main scrutiny committee.”

A schedule given to councillors shows that meetings closed to the public included the conservation and garages working parties, and the north end of St Peter’s Street working party.

The likes of the St Albans city forum was open to the public along with the standards committee and planning committees.

After the meeting Cllr Grover said more meetings should be open to interested members of the public rather than, “closed by default”.

He added: “It is not the right way to run a democratic system, unless there is sensitive information.

“I am very keen to have as open a council as possible, and there have been a couple of occasions where groups have excluded the public and I cannot see why they have.”