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!