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Council bans reporters from community grant meetings

A weekly paper has been banned from reporting which local projects are awarded small grants by community councillors.

The Free Press in Pontypool has been warned by Pontypool Community Council that at all future meetings, decisions over the grants – which start from just £50 – will be made in private, meaning reporters will not be able to attend.

The decision was made at a sub-committee without any members of the press there to make representations. It only came to light when reporter Will Bain spotted a short mention of it in the meeting’s minutes.

The council has a pot of around £30,000 every year which they can dish out to specific community projects.

Press managing editor Nicole Garnon labelled the decision “ridiculous” – and said while the grants were only small individually, they added up to a big chunk of taxpayers’ cash.

“People in Pontypool have a right to know where the money is being spent,” she said.

“Now we have effectively been banned from reporting where the money is going, or which councillor has agreed to spend it and how much is being spent.

“Further, we have been unable to get any explanation at all from the community council as to why the motion was suggested or on what basis.”

The paper splashed on the story and dedicated its editorial comment on it, condemning the move and vowing to lobby for the decision to be overturned.

The front page of the Pontypool Free Press which condemned the decision by the town's community council

“We pointed out to the council that debates and decisions should be held in public unless there are expectional reasons for not doing so,” Nicole added.

“We have heard that individual councillors were unhappy after getting complaints from groups which hadn’t received funding or which hadn’t got as much as another in the area – but that is not a valid reason to keep the decision-making process private.”

Instead, the council told the Free Press it would issue a list of all grants at the end of each financial year.

A spokeswoman for the council said that meeting was being organised with the council chairman over the issue.

“It would be inappropriate to comment until that has taken place,” she said.