Richmondshire District Council criticised for failing to advertise meetings

Richmondshire District Council has been criticised for failing to properly advertise key decision-making meetings.

Opposition members of Richmondshire District Council said it was “surprising” that the authority had not publicised recent meetings to which there was a strong public interest, including its Corporate Board and Planning Committee, where it had traditionally done on its website.

Concerns were raised further as it emerged a council press release incorrectly stated the Corporate Board meeting had seen a move to create ‘member champions’ approved.

While councils have a statutory duty to give notice of meetings at least five days before they take place to enable people to raise issues of concern about agenda items, councils are only required to publish the notice at its “offices and on its website where practicable”.

It is also seen as vital that council meetings are properly publicised to enable scrutiny of how public funds are being spent.

The authority’s website states: “Please see our events calendar for a schedule of meetings”, but other than the full council meeting in May that was organised ahead of the election, no meetings have been advertised on its calendar by the council.

A council spokeswoman said the Corporate Board papers had instead been published ahead of the meeting on its ‘committees’ section of its website, rather than under on the ‘council meetings’ pages and put on a public noticeboard at the council’s offices.

She added: “The council is introducing a new IT system to manage its meetings and when this goes live in July the events calendar will be populated with all of the meetings for the civic year.

“Richmondshire District Council has always publicly advertised its meetings and held its meetings in public unless specific statutory exemptions have applied to specific agenda items. This has always been the case and will continue to be so.”

The council’s Opposition leader, Councillor Yvonne Peacock, said the public did not know the names of council committees and would struggle to access the information.

She said: “They may say it was there, but if it wasn’t easy to find that is not good enough. It is rather surprising that this has happened. Something has gone wrong.”

Duncan Simpson, of the Taxpayers Alliance, said: “This shows a slightly concerning lack of diligence when it comes to transparency. Sunlight is often the best disinfectant. Without effective scrutiny, poor decisions are made and taxpayers inevitably foot the bill.

“Whether this was a one-off oversight or a more deliberate evasion of public scrutiny, all efforts need to be made to ensure that these meetings are well-publicised online and open to the press and public.”