Why will councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority only be shown a confidential report to be discussed on Thursday afternoon on the day of the meeting itself?
The author of this piece had the secrecy of two previously secret reports about fire station closures to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority overturned as a result of a consent order in First-tier Tribunal case EA/2016/0054.
A public meeting of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s Community Safety and Protection Committee that was originally planned for Thursday afternoon starting at 1.00 pm has been cancelled and replaced with a public meeting of the entire Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (all eighteen councillors and the Police and Crime Commissioner will be invited).
The agenda for this new public meeting has been published on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s website.
What did catch my eye is that in the private part of the meeting (if councillors chose to exclude the press and public for items 5 and 6) is an item titled Confidential Report (item 6).
The reasons recommended to councillors for excluding the press and public from this part of the meeting are the rather catch-all “Information relating to any individual” and “Information which is likely to reveal the identity of an individual.”.
Instead of councillors and the Police and Crime Commissioner receiving this confidential report through the post with the other papers for the meeting around a week before the meeting itself, only councillors and the Police and Crime Commissioner on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority who are there for the public meeting itself on Thursday afternoon will receive a copy on the day of the meeting itself!
Surely Local Government Act 1972, s.100E(4)(b) means whichever councillor chairs the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority public meeting on Thursday afternoon will have to give their opinion (which will have to be recorded in the minutes) in the public part of this meeting as to why a report handed to councillors on the day of the meeting itself should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency?
What’s so sensitive or embarrassing about the report that it can’t be sent through the post and is giving the report out only to councillors on the day of the meeting itself a mechanism to try to prevent councillors having time to read it before they discuss and decide on it?
As councillors on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority have to decide and vote at the public meeting whether or not to exclude the press and public for the meeting for the item on the confidential report, when was the last time councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority didn’t just rubber stamp a recommendation from a Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s Monitoring Officer Janet Henshaw to do so?
Or can the Nolan principles of openness and accountability be ignored when the matter is either politically sensitive (especially during an election period) or embarrassing?
If you wish to contact councillors on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority before the meeting, their contact details can be found by clicking on the councillor you wish the contact details for on this page on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s website.
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