Details of 15 June 2011 Secret Meeting

Richard Taylor made this Freedom of Information request to Cambridge City Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was successful.

Richard Taylor

Dear Cambridge City Council

Please could you release the agenda, minutes, papers and attendance list for the meeting held in committee room one at the Guildhall at about 19.15 on Wednesday the 15th of June 2011. Could you also please let me know where and when the agenda, papers, and notice of the meeting were publicised in advance of the meeting.

(This meeting followed the conclusion of the public Standards Committee Meeting)

Many thanks,

--

Richard Taylor
Cambridge
http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

Richard Taylor left an annotation ()

Background to this request is available at:

http://rtaylor.co.uk/4156#secret-meeting

Simon Pugh, Cambridge City Council

Dear Mr Taylor,

Thank you for your request for information, as set out below, under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000. In accordance with the Act we will
respond to your request within 20 working days i.e. by 14 July at the
latest, subject to any need to consider the application of exemptions
under the Act.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Pugh
Head of Legal Services
Cambridge City Council

Tel: (01223) 457401
Fax: (01223) 457409
>>> Richard Taylor <[1][FOI #75926 email]>
6/16/2011 12:08 am >>>
Dear Cambridge City Council

Please could you release the agenda, minutes, papers and attendance
list for the meeting held in committee room one at the Guildhall at
about 19.15 on Wednesday the 15th of June 2011. Could you also
please let me know where and when the agenda, papers, and notice of
the meeting were publicised in advance of the meeting.

(This meeting followed the conclusion of the public Standards
Committee Meeting)

Many thanks,

--

Richard Taylor
Cambridge
[2]http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

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Simon Pugh, Cambridge City Council

Dear Mr Taylor,

I write further to my acknowledgement of your request dated 16 th June.

You asked:

"Please could you release the agenda, minutes, papers and attendance list
for the meeting held in committee room one at the Guildhall at about 19.15
on Wednesday the 15th of June 2011. Could you also please let me know
where and when the agenda, papers, and notice of the meeting were
publicised in advance of the meeting.

"(This meeting followed the conclusion of the public Standards Committee
Meeting)"

The meeting you ask about was of a "Consideration Subcommittee" of the
Standards Committee. It met to consider a complaint concerning a
councillor. The Subcommittee resolved to exclude the press and public
during its deliberations.

I have the agenda and papers for the meeting. Because of the nature of the
meeting, there is a decision notice, rather than conventional minutes, and
the decision notice lists those in attendance.

However, I am not yet in a position to release the papers. I need a short
time to consider whether it is necessary to invoke any exemptions to
disclosure. Specifically, I need to consider whether disclosure of any
elements would amount to a breach of confidence or breach data protection
principles.

I need to meet two of the parties affected before I can make a decision
and hope to do so in the next few days. I will let you have a reasoned
decision, along with copies of the information (subject to any
redaction) as soon as I can. For the avoidance of doubt, the
councillor who was the subject of the complaint has not objected to the
disclosure of any information.

I will keep you informed if, for any reason, there is any delay.

Yours sincerely

Simon Pugh
Head of Legal Services
Cambridge City Council

Direct Line: ( 01223) 457401
Fax: (01223) 457409
DX: 5854, CAMBRIDGE
Email: [1][email address]

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Simon Pugh, Cambridge City Council

8 Attachments

Dear Mr Taylor,

I write further to my acknowledgement of your request dated 15th June.

Your request:

You asked:

"Please could you release the agenda, minutes, papers and attendance list
for the meeting held in committee room one at the Guildhall at about 19.15
on Wednesday the 15th of June 2011. Could you also please let me know
where and when the agenda, papers, and notice of the meeting were
publicised in advance of the meeting.

"(This meeting followed the conclusion of the public Standards Committee
Meeting)"

My response:

The meeting you ask about was of a "Consideration Subcommittee" of the
Standards Committee. It met to consider a complaint concerning a
councillor.

I attach the agenda and papers for the meeting. Because of the nature of
the meeting, there is a decision notice, rather than conventional minutes,
and this lists those in attendance.

I have made some redactions and have withheld one appendix to the report.

I have redacted some personal information by applying the exemption on
disclosure of personal information contained in section 40, Freedom of
Information Act 2000. In deciding whether or not to disclose personal
information I have applied the three-part test recommended by the
Information Commissioner's Office;

A) there must be a legitimate public interest in disclosure;

B) the disclosure must be necessary to meet that public interest; and

C) the disclosure must not cause unwarranted harm to the interests of the
individual.

1. I have removed personal telephone numbers and email addresses. I can
see no legitimate public interest in the disclosure of these in this
context. They are of no relevance to the complaint against the councillor
or its determination.

2. I have redacted the name of the complainant. The identity of the
complainant is of marginal relevance to the substance of the issue, which
is the conduct of the councillor. I met the complainant to discuss
disclosure of information relating to the complaint. The complainant
expressed a wish for her name to be withheld. I have concluded that there
is no public interest in disclosure of her name. The public interest lies
in the complaint about the conduct of the councillor and how this has been
considered. If there is a public interest, it is very marginal. Whilst the
disclosure of the name is unlikely to cause significant harm, I have given
weight to the complainant’s preference. I have also given weight to the
public interest in complainants being able to come forward confident that
their views with regard to publicity will, so far as possible and
reasonable, be respected.

3. I have redacted the names of two relatively junior planning officers.
As you will see, the complaint relates primarily to the manner in which
the Council handled a planning application. The complaint is implicitly
critical of the way in which a named planning officer dealt with the
application. There is a clear public interest in scrutiny of the
Council’s conduct in dealing with planning applications and the papers I
am disclosing set out the complaint in full. However, in my view, there is
only a limited public interest in identifying junior officers by name.
Different considerations may apply to more senior officers with management
responsibility and I have not redacted the names of more senior staff.
Publication of criticism by name of junior staff could cause them
significant distress in a context in which they do not have a ready right
of reply and my decision is that their names should be redacted.

4. I have redacted the names of some members of the public who
corresponded with the councillor. I could see no public interest in the
disclosure of their names and some public interest in members of the
public having confidence that their names will not be disclosed in this
manner, especially where this is correspondence with their councillor,
rather than direct with the Council. There is some public interest in the
content of the emails in giving a full picture of debate around this
planning application and I have included the text.

5. I have withheld Appendix 1 of the report. This consists of a transcript
of an interview between the complainant and the Investigating Officer. I
have applied the exemption in section 41 (“information provided in
confidence”) as well as the section 40 exemption (“personal
information”). I have spoken to the complainant and she has expressed a
preference for this appendix to be withheld. When she was interviewed, she
had not anticipated that the notes of the interview might be published and
had an expectation that the notes would be treated in confidence. The
substance of the notes, so far as is relevant to the complaint, is set out
in the Investigating Officer’s report. Because of this, whilst there is
a public interest in the subject matter of the report, I do not believe
that disclosure of the appendix is necessary to meet the public interest.
There is also a public interest in complainants being able to speak in a
frank and open manner to investigating officers. Complainants may be more
cautious or inhibited if they anticipate verbatim publication of their
interview.

Publicity

You have also asked about publicity in advance of the meeting. In dealing
with this, and generally, I think it would help if I explained the stages
in dealing with a complaint that a councillor is in breach of the Code of
Conduct.

Stage one

If a complaint is received that a councillor has breached the Code of
Conduct, the complaint will be referred to an "Assessment Subcommittee" of
the Standards Committee. The role of the Assessment Subcommittee is to
decide whether a complaint should be investigated.

Stage two

If an Assessment Subcommittee has decided that a complaint should be
investigated, an Investigating Officer is appointed. The Investigating
Officer will investigate the complaint and produce a report. It is the
role of a "Consideration Subcommittee" to give initial consideration to
the Investigating Officer's report.

If the Investigating Officer concludes that the councillor who is the
subject of a complaint has not breached the Code of Conduct, the
Subcommittee needs to decide whether it accepts this finding. If it
accepts the finding, this is the last stage in consideration of the
complaint. The Subcommittee meeting on 15 June accepted the Investigating
Officer's finding that the Councillor was not in breach of the Code of
Conduct.

Stage three

If a Consideration Subcommittee does not accept the Investigating
Officer’s finding, there will be a formal hearing into the complaint.
There will also be a formal hearing if the Investigating Officer concludes
that there has been a breach of the Code.

Meetings of an Assessment Subcommittee are not subject to the usual rules
about publicity and publication, and are not open to the public.
Consideration subcommittees, however, are subject to the same rules
regarding publicity as other subcommittees and committees of the Council.
Notice of the meeting should have been given and the agenda (but not the
report and appendices) should have been published. However, owing to
confusion between the different rules that apply to Assessment and
Consideration subcommittees, notice was not given and the agenda was not
published. I apologise for this and we will make sure that we are alert to
this in the future.

Right of review:

You are entitled to ask for a review of this response. A request for a
review should be addressed to

David Horspool,

Director of Resources,

The Guildhall,

Cambridge CB2 3QJ

(or [1][email address] )

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of an internal review, you are
entitled to pursue an appeal to the Information Commissioner. Details of
how to pursue a complaint are available on the Commissioner’s website at
[2]http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/freedom...

Yours sincerely,

Simon Pugh
Head of Legal Services
Cambridge City Council

Tel: (01223) 457401
Fax: (01223) 457409

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Richard Taylor left an annotation ()

"However, owing to confusion between the different rules that apply to Assessment and Consideration subcommittees, notice was not given and the agenda was not published."

So the council are saying they accidentally held the meeting in secret.

Richard Taylor left an annotation ()

In summary the information released relates to Cllr Hipkin being cleared by the council's standards board following a complaint that he didn't declare an interest in a planning matter.

While it was found he did have a personal interest he didn't declare, he was let off as his involvement in the case only involved direct interaction with officers. The rules only require declaration of interests at meetings, not when doing things like, as in this case, asking for a matter to be called in to a committee. I think it highlights a loophole in the rules.

Both the independent complaints investigator and the standards committee have proposed all councillors should be offered more training in relation to declaring conflicts of interest.