The Society met Hilary Armstrong, Minister for Local Government and the Regions, to discuss the proposed reform.
The meeting has been followed up by a letter from Mr Satchwell to the Minister, in which he said: “As I hope we explained, we do not argue with the Government’s desire to promote more efficient and more accountable local government that engages the public.
“I am afraid, however, that we remain to be convinced that the Bill as it is currently drafted will deliver all that you aim for across the country. Sadly, we fear that on the basis of some of the evidence coming from those authorities that have gone ahead with reform voluntarily, not all of them will deliver the greater openness in decision-making that you promise.
“We welcome the steps you are taking to ensure that the public and the media get prior warning of decisions through forward plans. Regrettably, we feel that some councils will not enter into the spirit of the legislation and may even exploit it to retreat into greater secrecy. We are also concerned about the level of detail that will be required in forward planning notices and whether it would equate to the amount of information currently contained in agendas.”
The letter added: “We hope you will make an unequivocal statement about the need for and benefits of greater openness. That is not for the good of the media but for the public and indeed councils themselves. The best way to reach sound decisions that are accepted is through open debate in advance. That will breed greater confidence and respect.
“In turn that should deliver greater efficiency, attract better qualified people into council work and hopefully increase voting in local elections.
“A clear statement of your intentions and what you believe to be good practice would enable local media to quote your remarks if councils are seen to be thwarting your aims.”
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