Parish Council Steering Group refuse to open up meetings to public
Despite calls for the Sutton Coldfield Parish Council Steering Group to employ a more transparent approach they are flatly refusing to open up their meetings to either the public or the press.
Although the group are digging in their heels they have yet to put forward a convincing argument as to why the decision not to sit in public was made.
And it was their decision, “…they could have elected to do so (meet in public)… however, they decided that given the significant workload they have to progress in such a short period of time that they would proceed without members of the public present, until the Interim Parish Council is established on 1 March 2016.” Ifor Jones, Service Director for Localisation.
Accusations that observers would slow things down just doesn’t wash. BCC hold numerous meetings that sit in public without having to stop every five minutes to explain things to the gallery and quite frankly the suggestion that this would be necessary is nothing short of an insult to the people of Sutton Coldfield.
The question was raised, apparently, at the previous meeting but by whom it is unclear as a number of members appear to be taking the credit for doing so. Unfortunately confirmation at this time is not possible as more than two weeks after the event there are still no minutes available. While it is appreciated that council officers are being overstretched as their numbers are decreased and their workload increased, it is important that minutes are released in sufficient time for residents to access them, reflect upon them and respond if necessary if their is to be any public engagement during this process.
There should also be concerns over the make up of the Steering Group which consists of nine Birmingham City councillors, seven of which are Conservative, and one BCC officer.
Of the three representatives from the Town Council Referendum Group at least one was an active UKIP campaigner during May’s Local and General Elections. Steering Group member Paul Long was UKIP Sutton Coldfield’s press officer. Now obviously this in itself is not a problem but what is of concern is that UKIP – who no doubt feel that there is a real opportunity to get some of its supporters on the Town Council – appear to be asking its supporters to keep a low profile. This in turn begs the important question, just how much boat rocking within the steering group can we expect from those supposedly representing the residents if their main priority is to keep a low profile? Time will tell but if they are truly representing the residents shouldn’t they be making a bigger issue of the closed group policy?
Transparent – not a word that readily springs to mind in the early evolution of the Sutton Coldfield Town Council.