City of York Council chiefs defend private decisions

First published in News

YORK council bosses have defended making some decisions in private rather than in public.

There was controversy in November when decisions on York’s bus services were made in private, and last Thursday City of York Council’s ban on anti-crime ‘mosquito’ devices became the latest issue to be approved behind closed doors.

New laws introduced in September say councils must give 28 days’ notice of any private meeting, but the council says that applies only to “decision-making bodies” and said in a statement: “A decision making body is the executive, a committee of the executive and certain joint committees. An individual cabinet member is not a decision-making body. Cabinet members do not need to give any notice of their proposed decisions or how they propose to take them.”

She said the council exceeded legal requirements by publicising forthcoming issues online in forward plans. They give approximate timescales for decisions but without precise dates or detail.

Last Thursday, Dafydd Williams, cabinet member for crime and stronger communities, agreed to ban mosquito devices from all council buildings. The devices emit high-pitched sounds, generally audible only to young people, and have been used to deter loitering.

The meeting was not on the council’s online calendar and no agenda was published, although a council report afterwards called it a “decision session”.

Conservative leader Ian Gillies called the practice “back door democracy” and Lib Dem leader Carol Runciman said Labour had clothed decisions in “increasing secrecy”.

Council leader James Alexander said earlier this year that reducing public meetings would reduce the financial burden of bureaucracy and allow more funding for scrutiny, thus increasing accountability.

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