Dear Spennymoor Town Council,

I refer to my previous request for information regarding the Exclusion of Press and Public from meetings.

My request stated:
Can you please supply full details of all Council and Committee
meetings/ parts of meetings of the Spennymoor Town Council, between
the period 8 Jan 2014 and 7 Jan 2015, where the Press and Public
have been excluded, together with the reasons for the exclusion in
each case?

Your response stated:
"this information is already in the Public Domain because Council Minutes
for the period set out in your request are already published on our
website in accordance with our FOI publication scheme".

I have examined your website and it appears that during 2014 the Press and Public were excluded on 39 occasions from 70 meetings.
The reason given in each case appears to use identical non-specific wording in a way designed to cover almost any eventuality.

I am sure this is not the Council's intention, nor indeed the intention of the enabling statute.

In the interests of openness, transparency and accountability can you please provide specific reasons for each individual case

Yours faithfully,

Alan Prudhoe

Alan

your email will be forwarded to the appropriate officer who will respond to your request.

Brenda Fryer
Principal Admin Officer


Brenda Fryer                                                                                                   
Principal Admin Officer
Spennymoor Town Council                         Phone: 01388 815276 
                                                                              [mobile number]
                                                Email:             [email address].uk                
TownHall                                                                                                                                      
High Street                                                                         
Spennymoor                                                    
Co.Durham 
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Dear Spennymoor Town Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Spennymoor Town Council's handling of my FOI request 'Exclusion of Press and Public'.

I have not received a prompt reply or any reason why a reply has not been forthcoming even though this was simply a follow up request to one made on the 12 Jan 2014.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/e...

Yours faithfully,

Alan Prudhoe

Dear Enquiries,
I refer to my request for an Internal Review dated 9 Feb for which no acknowledgement or reply has been received,

Can you please confirm that my request has been received and is being properly dealt with?

Yours sincerely,

Alan Prudhoe

Dear Mr Prudhoe,
Yes I can confirm that I have received your request for a review - I received it yesterday and I will respond this week. I have four staff off at the moment (out of a total of five in the Finance and Admin. team) and as a consequence of this I have had to bring in a temp.
Regrettably purely because of lack of personnel the "enquiries emails" were not being dealt with as quickly as they should have been. Please accept my apologies, and rest assured that it is with me now and I will respond as soon as I can, certainly within this week.

Might I suggest that you send any further requests/queries to me direct at
[email address]

Kind regards, keep up the singing !

Pauline Waterson

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Dear Enquiries,
Thanks Pauline. I know you will do your best.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Prudhoe

Pauline Waterson,

Dear Mr Prudhoe,

 

Thank you for your recent email received on 9^th February 2015  requesting
a review of our response to your FOI request submitted on January 7^th
2015.

Your original request was:-

 

“Can you supply full details of all Council and Committee meetings/parts
of meetings of the Spennymoor Town Council between the period 8^th January
2014 and 7th January 2015, where the Press and Public have been excluded,
together with the reasons for the exclusion in each case ?”

 

On 8th January 2015 The Town Council’s Finance & Administration Manager,
Mrs Jaidka responded to you as follows :-

“this information is already in the Public  Domain because Council minutes
for the period set out in your request are already published on our
website in accordance with our FOI publication scheme”

 

On 12^th January 2015 at 14.03pm you wrote again saying :-

“I have examined your website and it appears that during 2014 the Press
and Public were excluded on 39 occasions from 70 meetings. The reason
given in each case appears to use identical non specific wording in a way
designed to cover almost any eventuality. I am sure that this is not the
Council’s intention, nor indeed the intention of the enabling statute. In
the interests of openness, transparency and accountability can you please
provide specific reasons for each individual case”.

 

I would like to begin by first of all apologising for the lack of response
to your email of 12^th January 2015, this is not excusable.

 

Having considered your original Freedom of Information request, Mrs
Jaidka’s response and your subsequent email and request for an internal
review I would respond as follows.

 

Mrs Jaidka is technically correct in her initial response, the minutes in
question are on the Town Council website in accordance with the Town
Council’s FOI Publication Scheme and you can accordingly check for
yourself to see the minutes of the meetings.

 

In relation to those matters raised in your email of 12^th January 2015
and your concern that “the Town Council use none specific wording in a way
designed to cover almost any eventuality etc. etc”

In the context of my review of Mrs Jaidka’s response I would like to refer
you to the Council’s legal obligations under the Public Bodies( Admission
to Meetings) Act 1960.

 

The act provides

“1  Admission of public to meetings of local authorities and other bodies.

(1)  Subject to subsection(2) below, any meeting of a body exercising
public functions being a body to which this Act applies shall be open to
the public.

(2)  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 [ MY OWN EMPHASIS]  or for other
special reasons stated in the resolution and arising from the nature of
the 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 this resolution applies.”  

 

As you can see from the wording of the legislation the “none specific
wording” used in our standard exclusion of the press and public from Town
Council meetings “by reason of the confidential nature of the business”
fully satisfies the legal requirements.

The Town Council are not governed by the Local Government (Access to
Information) Act 1985 and more particularly Schedule 12A thereof …and  are
not  legally obliged  to provide the public with “specific reasons” for
the exclusion of the press and public either by the governing legislation
or under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

That said, when deciding whether or not to exclude the press and public
from meetings, as their Proper Officer, I can confirm that the Town
Council do have specific regard to the advice on this matter as set out in
the leading text “Local Council Administration” by Charles Arnold Baker,
this text, which specifically covers the law as it applies to Town and
Parish Councils, states at page 60, Eighth Edition, published by
LexisNexis

 

“In few cases is there any good reason for excluding the press or the
public from meetings…..As a rule, however, it is desirable to treat the
discussion of the following types of business as confidential:

(a)  Engagement, terms of service, conduct and dismissal of employees;

(b) Terms of tenders, proposals and counter-proposals in negotiation for
contracts

(c)  Preparation of cases in legal proceedings; and

(d) The early stages of any dispute”   

   

The  Town Council have, in their unanimously agreed vision, committed
themselves to being as open and transparent as possible, and to try and
reduce the number of  agenda items considered following the exclusion of
the press and public .However, as explained by Councillor Ian Geldard in
his recent response to correspondence on this same topic from  Mr Alan
Gardner [Council Meeting minutes of 27^th January 2015 refer] we have in
the last year undertaken an organisational review, with several staffing
implications and been involved in litigation that has warranted the
exclusion of the press and public.  

 

I trust that this comprehensively answers your concerns and deals with
your request for an internal review of Mrs Jaidka’s initial response.

 

Thank you for your interest in Spennymoor Town Council, please accept my
assurance that we do strive to be as open and transparent as we can be,
without putting the public purse at risk.

 

Yours sincerely,

Pauline

 

Pauline Waterson LL.B(Hons) DMS MBA Solicitor   

TOWN CLERK

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