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Working group FOI

0 votes
If a working group meets, which is seen as an opportunity for Councillors to discuss matters , without the public in attendance,  and it is recorded (possibly without knowledge)  does that recording become available under FOI
asked by (1.2k points)
edited by

5 Answers

0 votes
A working party as far as all the information I have seen is specified as a temporary group set up by a committee (or the council) to investigate and report back its findings on specific matters and NOT a decision making or discussion group. They are not required by SO to notify their meetings nor allow public attendance and scrutiny or produce minutes of those meetings. Although it would be expected that they give a written report to whichever group set them up. Therefore information may not be available to the public under the FOI or any request.

It would appear that some councils have sidestepped the requirements of the Localism bill by operating without committees and substituting working parties ( and task and finish groups) in an attempt to avoid the requirement of openness and transparency in their operation by effectively making the work of working parties unofficial mini committees working in secret. The question is why would any PC seek to do this?
answered by (3.7k points)
0 votes
I know of one case where meetings were held behind closed doors but notes were kept. Eventually the Information Commissioner forced the council to cough up the notes. Most revealing they were too.
answered by (2.6k points)
0 votes
We have working parties on our Council. But it is made clear that they are for discussion and forming ideas. Any proposed plans then have to go to the full Council for further discussion and any decision making.

We find that a working party of interested and pro-active councillors will come up with proposals, ideas and plans on how to take action a lot quicker that way. Nothing is hidden as it all has to go to the full council at some point.
answered by (330 points)
0 votes
As others have said there is no requirement for a working group to have members of the public in attendance nor is it a requirement to produce minutes.

However for the sake of transparency it’s always a good idea to be open at every opportunity unless there’s a very clear reason why it may be closed.

The FOI should be referred to the full council. Just because you’re a public body doesn’t mean you have to hand over information. If there’s a very good reason why the information not be made available then you should tell the requestor that.

The iCO will help you if needed and I’m sure you Borough/District/County Data Officer will provide advice if need be.
answered by (5k points)
All good points that support a structured system (committees) for council decision making. Whilst working parties have their uses (as stated investigation and reporting) by their nature they are open to a lack of transparency and control and with a "lazy" council their decisions can be "accepted " without investigation or challenge. With meetings being held in private accommodation and unannounced or minuted and closed to any form of scrutiny there is a big chance that a council will leave themselves open and contravene the requirements of their codes of conduct and standing orders.
0 votes
Recordings constitute information and thereby become accessible under the Freedom of Information Act by default unless a valid exemption can be demonstrated.  Working Group notes if recorded on paper on electronically should also be accessible under the FOI Act.
answered by (14.7k points)

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