Monday 18 May 2009

Excessive Secrecy

Carmarthenshire County Council is currently promoting a major development at the Eastern Gateway to Llanelli. In broad terms, the proposal has been supported right across the political spectrum in the Council. That is not to say that there are no concerns, however – any development on this scale will inevitably raise issues as well as bringing benefits.

The commercial aspects of the scheme are confidential at this stage, as is often the case with such developments. The result was that I, along with other observers, was obliged to leave the public gallery when the council discussed this item last week. No problem with that – I understand the need for commercial confidentiality whilst negotiations are in progress.

There is a problem with this approach, however. There are some (completely non-commercial) aspects to the development where there should really be no problem in having a more public discussion. One councillor, for instance, was interrupted by the Chair and not allowed to fully develop his points when he wanted to make a plea to retain a historic pub as part of the development, rather than bulldoze it. I'm sure his electors would want to know that he had made such a plea, and what he said on the matter - indeed, I think that they have a right to know that. Others were prevented from speaking at all.

It isn't easy to hold a council debate about a complex development in public without there being a danger that one or other of the councillors will – possibly inadvertently – reveal confidential information. But is that a reason not to try? There surely ought to be a way of holding a debate on the principles and nature of such a development in public, whilst restricting the discussion of the commercial and financial aspects to private session.

Erring on the side of caution leads to arguments becoming secret when they don't need to be – and shouldn't be.


Peter Black said...

Swansea Council has in fact developed a method of dividing such reports into two parts so that it is possible to have a discussion on the non-commercially confidential aspects in public.

David Edwards said...

Why don't councillors realise that the Local Gov. Act1972 says "may exclude the public, not must exclude the public"?

John Dixon said...


Pleased to hear it; and it goes to show that such things are possible when the will is there.


Quite. But, as you and I both know, it's because the councillors do what they're told to do...