Most public bodies attract their share of critics, some with good cause, others because they’re on a mission.
Some public bodies are very good at handling complaints, and others seem hellbent on attracting them. Our own Much Wenlock Town Council is unfortunately one of the latter.
In the past eleven months or so, complaints from local residents have appeared as agenda items at several meetings. The complaints have been considered in secret – “pursuant to section 1(2) of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960”
The Act says:
A body may, by resolution, exclude the public from a meeting (whether during the whole or part of the proceedings) whenever publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted or for other special reasons stated in the resolution and arising from the nature of that business or of the proceedings; and where such a resolution is passed, this Act shall not require the meeting to be open to the public during proceedings to which the resolution applies.
We’ll come back to this in another post, but in the meantime we have a complaint at the Town Council meeting on 1st December 2016 about an allegation of slander (minute 19).
At the meeting held on 2nd February 2017 it was agreed that an unspecified complaint would be taken no further (minute 22).
The Council’s meeting on 6th April 2017 considered an allegation of defamation, and a budget of £3,000 (of your money) was allocated to deal with it (minute 27).
At its meeting on 18th May 2017 the Town Council, a further £2,000 (of your money) was allocated for “occupational health advice” (minute 30).
On 1st June 2017 it appears that further expenditure of £500 (of your money) was set aside to deal with an email from a former Town Councillor. Despite there being “defamatory comments about a member of staff”, it was decided that “there would be no further action at this stage”. (minute 21).
At a meeting held on 6th July 2017 it was noted that letters be noted and “the matter” was now concluded (minute 26).
At the meeting held on 5th October 2017, there was consideration of “an ongoing complaint from a member of the public” (minute 22).
On 2nd November 2017 the Town Council meeting considered a complaint about a Freedom Of Information request it had turned down. It agreed “To write to the complainant and inform him that the Town Council was not aware of any plans for development adjacent to Hunters Gate…” (minute 27). This seems a strange statement, given that its meeting on 6th July 2017 recorded that “A letter had been received from Berry’s on behalf of Wenlock Estates which advised that land adjoining the primary school at Hunters Gate had been put forward for development of approximately 90 dwellings in response to Shropshire Council’s ‘Call for Sites’ & Local Plan Review. The letter offered the Town Council an opportunity to discuss the plans in more detail and the Town Clerk recommended that a meeting should be arranged.” (minute 10 iv)
This is a chronic litany of disengagement with the local community. It’s questionable whether publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest in most of these meetings and, in any case, how did the Town Council get itself into this mess in the first place?
How much of tax payers’ (your) money has been spent on these futile exercises? How much time has been spent? And how might the Much Wenlock community have benefited if all of this resource had been directed into something more constructive?
Questions must be asked! And just as importantly – answered in full.