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Task Groups - Open to the Public?
06-12-2010, 01:25 PM
Post: #1
RE: Task Groups - Open to the Public?
Hello

When the new O&S structure was introduced at Northampton in May 2010 - One O&S Committee and three Scrutiny Panels (which undertake the work that the previous Task and Finish Groups had - ie Reviews) it was agreed that they would meet in public - Link below to the relevant section within the Constitution. To date this has worked well holding the meetings in public. Previously the scruture comprised four O&S Committees and Task and Finish Groups (which then met in private).

http://www.northamptonboroughcouncil.com...6186&Ver=4

Tracy
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06-12-2010, 02:45 PM
Post: #2
RE: Task Groups - Open to the Public?
In Devon we let the Task Groups decide for themselves and almost always they choose to meet in private. We try to operate our TGs informally, as a conversation rather than a set-piece meeting. If we had to cater for an audience (physical or online) then we'd have to do things differently, if only so that they could see and hear properly. An audience would (preumably) necessitate a bit more structure to the discussion as well as militating against using some of our smaller meeting rooms.

We've felt that contributors are more inclined to open up in an informal setting (especially when we have had parents and carers speaking about their experiences) but perhaps others have found differently.
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06-12-2010, 04:13 PM
Post: #3
RE: Task Groups - Open to the Public?
Here at Bucks CC all of our Task and Finish Groups are held in public, unless like a formal committee the issue is deemed to be confidential. We have found that this approach encourages greater public and media attendance at meetings (as Task and Finish Groups are topic specific).

I am also of the opinion that there is a push from central government to improve transparency across local government, so evidence gathering meetings in public are an ideal way to highlight the work of the local authority and its partners good or bad in the public domain.

To view some of the topics we have examined in the past please follow the link below:

http://www.buckscc.gov.uk/moderngov/mgLi...aspx?bcr=1
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07-12-2010, 05:11 PM
Post: #4
RE: Task Groups - Open to the Public?
My gut feeling is that they should be open to the public as a matter of course - at my former authority we published the dates, times and locations of task group meetings on the scrutiny website. However, as usual with scrutiny meetings, nobody tended to attend.

They didn't affect full and frank discussion, and as a matter of course we appended the minutes of all task group meetings to the appendices of final scrutiny reports so they all found their way into the public domain.

Some of the difficulties around this may end up being prosaic in nature - for example, scheduling additional public meetings will probably provoke the Monitoring Officer into deciding if they should, in fact, be treated as formal committees with all the 1972 Act bells and whistles that entails. There may end up being a demarcation issue between scrutiny and committee services staff (without wanting to sound too 1970s British Leyland about all this).

On balance though, I think that anything that encourages the public to be more closely involved in the process the better, and public task group meetings help that process. The comparative informality means that under certain circumstances it may even be thought appropriate to allow any members of the public attending to contribute to the discussion!
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08-12-2010, 11:35 AM
Post: #5
RE: Task Groups - Open to the Public?
I agree totally with Ed's post, We have our working party meetings nominally open to the public although with one or two notable exceptions it has been rather acedemic as no one has attended
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08-12-2010, 12:01 PM
Post: #6
RE: Task Groups - Open to the Public?
I am not clear what, technically, allows task group meetings excemption from the requirements of the LGA 1972 requirements to hold meetings open to the public? On the face of it - where a task grouip meeting is taking place, talking to officers, receiving information, agreeing on outcomes etc - this is a meeting, and therefore subject to the same rules? M
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08-12-2010, 12:08 PM
Post: #7
RE: Task Groups - Open to the Public?
I tend to agree with the Devon model. The whole point of Task Groups is that they are behind the scenes "working groups" which are free from the ritgours of usual committee red-tape. Any reports emerging from our groups go to a "proper" committee anyway.
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08-12-2010, 04:50 PM
Post: #8
RE: Task Groups - Open to the Public?
Chalk up another vote for keeping them private.

Several issues here - one is the full & frank discussion thing. It does make a difference if councillors don't feel they are being watched, and I've seen examples of this.

Another point is that task group work copnsists of much more than meetings - site visits, research, individual members of TGs meeting with some witnesses and so on, that setting out rules about them being public could get you into a bit of a pickle (maybe that's not insurmountable, but still)

Another is that public engagment & representation is still only one aspect of scrutiny. Scrutiny musn't be judged by how public it is, but about its outcomes, and sometimes efforts to be open distract from the need to get a result.

And finally, it's easier to start from the position of meeting in private and then agreeing to throw the doors open for all or part of a review than it is to start in public and have to justify closing the doors.
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09-12-2010, 12:41 PM
Post: #9
RE: Task Groups - Open to the Public?
Should have also added that you'll only get some witnesses along if it's behind closed doors. I'm not going to name anyone, but we have had dealings with some organisations that have only agreed to come along on the guarantee that it's all in private. Certainly there are many others who speak much mroe freely and honestly if they know that the only record will be the minutes which may not include some of the useful stuff they have given us off the record. You could take the view that such sessions should and could be arranged as an exception when needed, I suppose, but I an't help feeling that the main thing you'd achieve there is drawing attention to that particular meeting, thereby defeating the point.
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