Informal Cabinet Meetings

From some recently released Freedom of Information material

we now have evidence that Shepway’s cabinet hold informal meetings which the public can’t attend. Such a meeting took place on 8th November 2016 and that at this meeting cabinet members considered the masterplan and ARC proposals for the Princes Parade development and were very supportive. We have challenged the chief executive on this as it can’t be right that the cabinet members can meet and discuss such a controversial issue out of the public eye and with no notes having been taken or published.

He said “You are correct, Cabinet does meet occasionally on an informal basis and it is legitimate and reasonable to do so. These meetings are informal meetings and do not constitute formal meetings of the Council, so no records are kept of the meeting. It is important to appreciate that during these informal meetings Councillors are not meeting as a decision making body. During these informal meetings Councillors are not exercising their statutory executive responsibilities. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss informally the development of policy or to be briefed by an officer on a particular matter.”

But surely cabinet members will have been influenced by whatever was said or shown to them during these meetings and yet we,as members of the public, have no way of knowing what that might have been. Having had such a briefing is it not more likely that members attending the formal decision making meeting will already have made up their minds?

We have asked the chief executive to justify these informal meetings in terms of the law and/or the councils constitution.

The same FoI material also reveals that a Princes Parade working group met on several occasions. We were aware that this group existed although the meetings were neither publicised nor open to the public. Some of the minutes have been released following another FoI request.

It appears that there has also been meetings of a Princes Parade Advisory Panel but we have no idea what this is nor who sits on it. We have asked the chief executive to explain how both the working group and the advisory panel fit with the council’s constitution.