Councillors met in a ‘Part 2’ secret session of the Executive Board today to discuss a vaguely named ‘Office Accommodation Review’.
The review report was put before councillors for a private discussion, despite some hints of what it may contain being public.
Council Chief Executive referred to the Part 2 report in passing when speaking to Wrexham.com in a media brief last week, noting it could mean locating council offices in the town centre along the lines of a long term vision for such a move that would help boost the town centre, as well as making cost savings for the council.
In another council report we spotted a note that states that the review contains three phases, with the 1st phase will seeing the creation of a ‘wellbeing hub’ within Crown Buildings.
Crown Buildings will also see a “refurbishment of the wider building to create office space for up to 500 staff”.
In today’s meeting Cllr Marc Jones called a point of order on the report being discussed behind closed doors, and wanted one specific part of the report to be discussed in public. Cllr Jones pointed out that something in the report referred to his ward of Grosvenor, and a building within it, and he felt it was important that the specific section of the debate was public.
“It is not behind closed doors, it is in Part 2” says the Council Leader. (*narrator* The item will literally be heard behind closed doors )
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) January 14, 2020
The Council Leader Mark Pritchard was firm in following advice from the Legal Officer that the report should be heard in Part 2, with the small debate on the point itself revealing some elements of what could be in the report.
Cllr Marc Jones said the secret report referred to a “building of significance” in the Grosvenor ward of Wrexham, and that it could be subject to ‘demolition’.
Rather than stating demolition of the mystery building was entirely untrue, the Council Leader said no decision had been taken as of yet.
Cllr Pritchard added that the section in dispute referred to a ‘small parcel of land’ and also mentioned time sensitive Welsh Government grants were in play.
Cllr Pritchard says he will look to bring back a report in public to ‘discuss that specific item’ in future.
Tweeting during the meeting Cllr Jones made his views known outside of the chamber:
This specific building’s future should not be decided without public consultation. https://t.co/6rUBJ9IsQn
— marc jones (@marcvjones) January 14, 2020
The report was voted by the Executive Board to be discussed in private, with no public notification of what the debate contained expected, however a decision notice usually quietly appears on the council website at a later date.
The full reasoning given for holding the debate and decision making on the report is copied below:
In considering whether to exclude the press and public from the next part of the meeting Members are asked to consider the following factors when determining the public interest test.
Agenda Item 13 – Not for publication by virtue of Paragraph 14 of Part 4 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).
The Proper Officer has determined in considering this report that paragraph 14 should apply. Her view on the public interest test was that while she was mindful of the need to ensure the transparency and accountability of public authorities for decisions taken by them in relation to the spending of public money, disclosure of the information would give an unfair advantage to tenderers for commercial contracts. This information is not affected by any other statutory provision which requires the information to be publicly registered. On that basis she felt that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information
It is, therefore, recommended that the press and public be excluded from the Meeting during consideration of the following item as it is likely that, if they were present, there would be disclosure to them of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 14 of Part 4 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).
Top pic: A picture of a closed door to the Guildhall main chamber, behind which such Part 2 debates are held.
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