Highland Councillors have voted to keep local decisions secret at a meeting of the Full Council on Thursday 10th March. SNP councillor Emma Roddick proposed a motion that Ward Business Meetings – forums where all the councillors representing one Highland ward regularly meet to make very local decisions – have action notes published for the public to see. Currently, these are held in private and many are not minuted.
An amendment was proposed to oppose the motion, and councillors voted against Cllr Roddick’s motion, seconded by Cllr Derek Louden, by 35 votes to 15, meaning these decisions will continue to be taken in secret.
Cllr Roddick pointed out that, while Ward Business Meetings were created for discussion, they have “evolved” into full decision-making bodies which award significant amounts of funding and make decisions which affect those she represents, and told her colleagues that this motion is the “minimum” that the Council would need to do to be able to describe itself as transparent. She said:
“We take decisions on things which may be small, may be little issues which only affect a street or two, but they are still things our constituents care about. We decide which youth groups and charities get a few thousand pounds from the ward discretionary fund, and which don’t.
“I’ve also taken part in decisions on removal or reinstatement of benches, bollards, and bins – not flashy, but folk do care.
“It is beyond belief that councillors have voted down a simple measure to publish action notes which, for the most part, are already being recorded. That we are continuing to force the public to lodge FOIs to find out what is being decided by their councillors is a scandal, and I hope that the public pay attention to who voted against this when they head to the ballot box in May.”