Calderdale Council established a ‘people’s commission’ to look into changes affecting our local health services. The Commission has now completed its report and a copy has been circulated to all Councillors ahead of a special Council meeting due to occur on the 9th of February. It is at this meeting of the Council that Councillors such as myself will discuss the report, and its recommendations.
I am in receipt of a copy of this report, but in a covering letter that came attached with it I am asked to treat it as confidential. I am informed that following a decision made by the commission (after our group leader had left the meeting) it will be published after the Council has considered it on the 9th February. Personally I don’t this is a very open or democratic way of conducting business. I want the public and the press to be able to read the report before we debate it in the Council chamber. That way members of the public can let me know their views and I can represent them as their Councillor. Isn’t that how democracy is meant to work?
There are certain cases where Council reports will be marked as confidential for good reason (e.g. they contain someone’s personal details). When reports are made confidential in this fashion you do so by applying exemptions under 12A of the Local Government Act 1972. All copies of the report have the fact they are confidential clearly marked on them. I have asked the Council’s legal officer and he has confirmed the People’s Commission report is not exempt from publication under these grounds. I have therefore asked the Chief Executive of the Council for the document to be published.
I also don’t think it’s legal to wait until after the Council meeting to publish the report as the Local Government (access to information) Act 1985 says that all reports to public meetings of the Council need to be made available to the public at least three days before the meeting. I really hope the report is published soon, it’s a good bit of cross-party work and it seems a shame that the Commission seems to be handling its publication and the final bit of the process in such a poor fashion. What good reason is there for not simply publishing the report now?