How Argyll & Bute Works: Michael Russell’s parliamentary questions and replies

Michael Russell asked some written questions in the Scottish Parliament about the way Argyll & Bute Council has been operating recently. His questions and the replies he got from Marco Biagi are shown below. Readers can judge for themselves whether the secretive manner in which the council’s budget is being handled meets with the government’s expectations.

5 June 2015

Index Heading: Communities

Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute) (Scottish National Party): To ask the Scottish Government whether it considers that the establishment of a local authority committee that (a) met in private and excluded the public at all times, (b) took no minutes, (c) refused councillors who are not members of the committee access to its papers, (d) refused councillors who are not members of the committee to attend and (e) gave no indication of the means by which its recommendations would be published or issued for final decision by the local authority would be consistent with best practice in local authorities in the development of budgets and financial plans.

S4W-25690

Marco Biagi:

The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 provides the legal framework within which councils have to operate, and it makes provision for the arrangements for formal committees or sub-committees of a council. This includes arrangements for admission to meetings and access to agendas and connected reports, including minutes.

A council may establish other groups to take forward matters as it chooses, however where a working group, or similar, is set up, it cannot exercise the council’s statutory functions and decisions on those would have to be taken by the council itself, or by a committee to which the access arrangements of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973) apply. It is up to a council to ensure that its arrangements comply with relevant statutory requirements and meet the requirements of Best Value, which include the principles of accountability and transparency.

5 June 2015

Index Heading: Communities

Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute) (Scottish National Party): To ask the Scottish Government whether the power of general competence available to a local authority allows it to establish committees that (a) take no minutes, (b) do not permit their papers to be distributed to councillors who are not members of the committee, (c) forbid councillors who are not members of the committee to attend and (d) meet in private and exclude the public at all times.

S4W-25689

Marco Biagi:

Local authorities in Scotland do not have a power of general competence, instead they have a power to advance well-being. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 provides the legal framework within which councils have to operate, and it makes provision for the arrangements for formal committees of a council. It is for a council to decide how it conducts its business, providing it complies with the 1973 Act.

5 June 2015

Index Heading: Communities

Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute) (Scottish National Party): To ask the Scottish Government what redress is available to a councillor who is refused access to papers regarding the local authority’s budget and the development of financial plans.

S4W-25688

Marco Biagi:

Reports submitted to meetings of a council, its committees and subcommittees are covered by the provisions of Part IIIA of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. This requires them to be available for public inspection, unless they are to be considered in private session. Following the meeting, background papers have to be made available in accordance with a statutory scheme. Section 50F provides that a member of an authority is always entitled to inspect material relevant to business to be transacted at a meeting of the authority, unless it would disclose exempt information, as are members of committees, where committee business is involved.

These provisions do not cover meetings which are not part of a council’s formal committee structure, in which case the release of reports is a matter for the council itself.

In the first instance a member of an authority should approach whichever officer or officers the council has designated as its proper officer for such matters for access to material. Ultimately a member of an authority could seek access to documents through the courts, or pursue a complaint of maladministration with the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

Author: Michael Breslin

I am no longer a councillor with Argyll & Bute Council but given the appalling treatment I got from the senior officers and a few elected members, I plan to continue keeping an eye on what the council is doing.

3 thoughts on “How Argyll & Bute Works: Michael Russell’s parliamentary questions and replies”

  1. Mr Biagi refers to the “council” having the power/authority to “establish other groups” and to release reports of the proceedings of meetings not under the council’s formal committee structure.

    We seem to be talking about two councils here – one where the full council of 36 councillors determine on the basis of what’s in front of them including the two points above and a council operating at the behest of the council leader. Or, has the full council of 36 members actually agreed to the covert committee being set up and to its minutes, papers, etc not being released to councillors excluded from it? If not, then, in this instance, one can only conclude that the council amounts to the council leader and invited associates.

    Somehow, I don’t think this is Mr Biagi’s impression of what constitutes the council. Perhaps an additional governance question along the following lines should be asked :-

    “Is the Leader of a local authority empowered to establish at his/her discretion an informal, clandestine committee with membership by invitation only which is not obliged to take minutes or release details of its proceedings to other councillors within the local authority”.

    Aye, Iain

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