Old Grumpy has been taking an interest in the case of former PCC youth worker ‘Mik’ Smith who earlier this week was jailed for six years after pleading guilty to a string of child abuse offences.
I had a vague recollection of a body being set up to investigate the way the council had handled child abuse incidents following the critical Estyn/CSSIW reports in July 2011 and the reference in the council’s press release to a complaint involving Smith in 2005 led me to wonder if his case had been one of them.
Fortunately, I happened to come across a copy of the minutes of the inaugural meeting of something called the Safeguarding and Improvement Board which was held on 14 September 2011.
As this meeting dealt with largely procedural matters it was held in public.
However, I do recall that some of the members – Cllrs Michael Williams and Bob Kilmister, in particular – were uncomfortable with the idea that future meetings were to be held in private.
There seems to have been a lengthy discussion on this subject and the minutes record:
The minutes also record that the board settled on the following course of action:
As the minutes record, setting this body up as a Board rather than a committee circumvented S100 of the Local Government Act 1972 which requires all council meetings to be open to the public unless there is good cause to go into private session.
Of course, a committee can always resolve to go into private session if exempt information is likely to be disclosed.
But the advantage with a Board is that it doesn’t even have to let people know it is meeting, so there is no need to invoke the statutory exclusion process because there is nobody there to exclude.
My next port of call was the minutes of the corporate governance committee to which the issue had been referred.
“Noting the concern expressed by some members of the Committee at the possibility that the public and press would not be granted access to meetings of the Board, the Leader of Council proposed that, as a way forward, the Board seek the views of the Ministerial appointees (the announcement of whose appointments was anticipated imminently) on this issue, and a report be brought back to Corporate Governance Committee.
In relation to the next meeting of the Board, it had already been acknowledged that the scheduled business would include detailed review of sensitive and confidential information thereby requiring business to be undertaken in private.
That the proposal in this matter by the Leader of Council be adopted.”
And there the trail went cold because I can find no record of the matter ever coming back to corporate governance committee, as proposed by the Leader.
No matter, I thought, because as stated in the minutes of the Board’s inaugural meeting:
“…it was intended that a record of the Board’s proceedings would be made public by way of reporting them to the children and families scrutiny committee; inclusion of the records of the Board’s meetings within the agenda papers for that committee thereby effecting their publication.”
However, when I logged on to the two relevant meetings of the children and families overview and scrutiny committee (January and March 2012) I found the following:
I wonder who made the decision to suppress these minutes, and on what constitutional authority.
All very mysterious.
PS I notice (Sunday am) that a version of the minutes of these two scrutiny committee meetings has now appeared on the council’s website .
However, when you click on the link to the records of the Board – the ones that would be made public by way of reporting them to the children and families scrutiny committee – a message flashes up informing you: “ERROR- PAGE UNAVAILABLE. You do not have access to this document”
So, I’m still none the wiser.