‘A Kangaroo Court operating under its own devices’ is how a Pembrokeshire town council is being labelled following its decision to eject members of the public from a discussion that had been listed on a public meeting agenda.
Five members of the public who were attending this week’s meeting of Neyland Town Council were asked to leave, given what a councillor described as ‘the sensitive nature’ of a matter they were due to discuss.
The item related to a vote of no confidence in a serving member. But according to Section 48 of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021, this equates to a matter of public interest and should subsequently have been debated in an open chamber.
As a result, the decision to exclude the public was a blatant flouting of Section 48 which sets out statutory guidance on how councils should operate. The guidelines state that members of the public should only be excluded for ‘highly confidential matters’ including tenders for contracts, legal issues and staffing issues.
The Act also states that members of the public can only be requested to leave a meeting after a Notice of Motion has been proposed, seconded and voted upon by the full council. The Notice must include a comprehensive reason for excluding the public. Once the decision has been made, the public should then be given an opportunity to question the council’s reasoning.
However at this week’s meeting of Neyland Town Council, these guidelines were overlooked.
Attending the meeting was county councillor Simon Hancock, who is himself a former long-standing member of Neyland Town Council. Following his exclusion from the meeting, he is now calling on Neyland Town Council to carefully weigh up the balance of public interest when conducting future full council meetings.
“ I was very disappointed that the motion to remove the press and public did not attract any debate at all,” he told The Herald.
“ Councils have to carefully weigh up the balance of public interest and consider whether the public interest is better maintained by excluding the public rather than by holding the meeting in public. Sometimes there are good reasons for going into closed session but only after a due process has been complied with.”
The clerk of Neyland Town Council, Vanessa Walker, and the chair, Cllr Mike Harry, have been asked to comment on the situation.