Transparency Code loophole allows Councils to avoid publication of papers

The Coalition Government under Eric Pickles introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at improving local government openness and transparency. This included the "right to report" legislation making it possible to film and report live from Council meetings. It also includes a "transparency code" which requires Councils to publish online minutes, background papers, agendas and other council information.

The code comes in two shapes and sizes. There is a "full fat" version covering Councils with revenues of over £200,0000 a year and a "lite" version covering smaller councils with revenues under £25,000 a year. The code for smaller councils quite rightly is less onerous reflecting the much smaller nature of these town and parish councils and the fact they don't have the same resources a s larger council does.

Nevertheless the code for smaller councils requires they publish online the agenda and any papers (including draft minutes from the last meeting) at least three days before a meeting. Not a particularly onerous responsibility and one the government expect very small councils indeed to be able to manage.

You might be wondering what happens to councils with revenues between £25,000 and £200,000. Unfortunately there is currently no code covering councils of this size that might be described as medium sized.

A parliamentary briefing paper published in March 2015 explains the situation:

Councils with income or expenditure between £25,000 and £200,000 will be expected to follow the Local Government Transparency Code described in section 2.1 above, but will not be legally required to do so.
The code referred to is actually the more onerous "full fat" version but it is clear that in practice several councils of this size are failing even to abide by the code for smaller councils.

Sadly this includes Stradbroke Parish Council which actually took steps last year to reduce transparency by refusing to publish draft minutes until after they have been approved. Its "preferred" website (which it does not run itself) did not even publish meeting agendas until recently. It only published minutes which sometimes appeared months after. Supporting papers aren't published at all either before or after meetings and the only way to obtain them is with Freedom of Information requests that can take many weeks.

Unfortunately left to their own devices the reality is that several town and parish councils will choose not to act in an open and transparent way. The government needs to legislate to close this loophole as soon as possible and drag reluctant town and parish councils into the age of accountability to the electors who pay for them!

Local Government Transparency Code 2015
Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities
Parliamentry Briefing Paper - Local Government Transparency in England
Suffolk Politics 5464713048076515805

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